£4m payout for woman left brain-damaged

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The husband of a brain-damaged woman who has been awarded more than £4 million after medical mistakes left her with a 10-minute memory said today the payout was a "huge relief" but that their lives had been "torn apart".

Cristina Malcolm was left permanently brain-damaged after what is now suspected to have been a brain haemorrhage was misdiagnosed by medics as a virus.

Her injury left her totally dependent on her husband, Sandy, who has been her full-time carer up until a year ago when they received some help.

It has also made it impossible in practice for them to have children, which had been Mrs Malcolm's dream.

Mr Malcolm, from County Durham, has been pursuing legal action for compensation and this week a £4.46 million settlement was agreed.

He said: "It is seven years since Cristina collapsed and the confirmation of the settlement is a huge relief. However, Cristina could have received this care much earlier if the defendant's lawyers had admitted liability earlier and had come to a settlement.

"I now know that whatever happens to me in the future she will be cared for.

"We have had our entire lives torn apart by this.

"For the first six years she was totally reliant on me for everything. Everything that she did in life I would have to take care of.

"I started by thinking that if I did things with her that were spectacular then she would remember. Once we spent 12 hours in Paris visiting all the sights. But when we were driving out of the centre, less than 15 minutes after we had left, she said, 'Wouldn't it be a nice idea if we visited Paris?'."

His wife collapsed at home in July 2002 with a severe headache, which she described as the "worst of her life", but she was misdiagnosed.

Two weeks later she suffered a more serious haemorrhage and was rushed to Newcastle General Hospital where she underwent life-saving surgery to remove half a litre of blood from her brain.

She was left permanently brain-damaged and unable to remember anything for more than 10 minutes.

As an example of how hard their lives had become, Mr Malcolm said he had had to break the news to her of her father's death not once, but 10 or 15 times.

He said: "It was the saddest thing I have had to do in my whole life.

"Naturally she was completely devastated but an hour later she had no idea. I had to tell her 10 or 15 times over the next three or four days and you knew every time you told her how much it would break her heart."

Before the haemorrhage Mrs Malcolm used to work as a paediatric anaesthetic nurse.

Her husband explained that having children is now "impossible because she is unable to take care of them".

He described her as "a 10-year-old child with Alzheimer's" and said that on two different occasions he had come home from work to find his wife with unexplained injuries.

"Sadly, once when I came home she had a black eye and scratches on her face. Another time she had grazed the skin off the front of her nose. She didn't have any idea what had happened. I don't know if she was attacked or fell over."

But the 47-year-old, who is head of purchasing at a mail order company, said he tried to make "every day special" for his wife.

He instructed John Davis, partner and serious injury specialist at Irwin Mitchell, to pursue a compensation claim for gross clinical negligence.

The action was taken against Dr James Harrison of Chevely Park Medical Centre in Durham, Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust.

A spokeswoman for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "We sincerely regret the failures in care which led to Mrs Malcolm's injury.

"Letters of apology are being sent to Mr Malcolm by the chief executives of each trust.

"It is recognised that neither words nor money can compensate for what has happened but it is hoped that there is some comfort in knowing that Mrs Malcolm will have financial security for the rest of her life and will be well cared for."