The coma student who fought back from the brink

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The Independent Online
DOCTORS ALLOWED an unconscious student to go for two months without food because they thought she was going to die.

Catherine Roberts' parents, Wendy and Frank, were told that their daughter would never recover consciousness after suffering a brain haemorrhage, and she remained in a coma.

But the day before doctors intended to switch off her life-support machine, Catherine's mother got a response when she told her daughter she loved her.

Catherine, 26, a former psychology student, is now recovering at home and has won a pounds 100,000 out-of-court settlement from the hospital which was prepared to allow her to die.

Catherine was a student at Bath University when she collapsed in October 1992.

After being operated on at the Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, her parents, from Bournemouth, were told her chances of survival were slim and that she was likely to remain in a coma.

She was sent to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, where she was expected to die within days. Mrs Roberts slept at her daughter's bedside, convinced that each day would be her last.

When Catherine's nasal feeding tube fell out, doctors at the hospital allowed nature to take its course.

Mrs Roberts said: "They said it would cause unnecessary suffering to replace it as she was going to die in a day or two anyway. When she didn't they put it back."

After two months doctors advised stopping liquids, which Catherine was receiving via an intravenous drip. Mrs Roberts began preparations for her daughter's funeral and even reserved a plot at the cemetery.

Mrs Roberts said: "The next week they said they were going to take her breathing tube out. The day before they were going to remove the tube I thought there was something different about her. Then I saw her open her eyes and blink.

"I told her that if she could understand me to poke her tongue out. She did and then I told her I loved her. When she mouthed it back my heart leapt."

Since then Catherine has made steady progress. She has begun to talk and, although still severely handicapped and wheelchair-bound, she is now studying once again, this time for an Open University degree.

Her solicitor, Alison McLure, of the medical legal specialists Blake Lapthorn, said: "The action was against the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospital NHS Trust for negligence. They failed to come to a proper diagnosis, and they failed to provide Catherine with the proper care that she required.

"When the initial expectation that she would die within two or three days was not fulfilled a proper diagnosis should have been carried out.

"Catherine should also have received physiotherapy during the time that she was unconscious."

A spokesman for the hospital trust said: "The trust is pleased this complex and difficult case has been settled.

"The result is to the satisfaction of all parties in conjunction with the NHS Litigation Authority and the Frenchay Health Care NHS Trust in Bristol."

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