Cork man who feels he looks like 'elephant man' settles action over alleged disfigurement

Cork man who feels he looks like 'elephant man' settles action over alleged disfigurement
Liam Coughlan, from Midleton, Co. Cork, pictured leaving the Four Courts after his High Court action for damages. Pic: Collins Courts

A 63-year-old man who claims he suffered alleged disfigurement when he had mouth surgery as part of a cancer treatment at a Cork hospital has settled his High Court action.

Liam Coughlan always had great pride in his appearance but now feels he looks like “elephant man”, his counsel Oonah McCrann SC had told the court at the opening of his case last week.

Ms McCrann said sometimes people do not recognise Mr Coughlan, a carpenter and maintenance officer from Midleton, Co Cork. She said his life is now very different and he fears for the future.

“He can’t reach up to change a light bulb, he can’t lift heavy saucepans in the kitchen. He worked all his life and is devastated he can’t get back to work,” Ms McCrann added.

Before the surgery in 2015, Mr Coughlan, she said, was gregarious and very active.

Ms McCrann said it was their case that an alleged unnecessary and inappropriate procedure was carried out and an alleged inappropriate repair was also carried out.

Liam Coughlan Lower Aghada, Midleton, Co Cork had sued South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, Cork and the HSE over the care he received when he needed mouth surgery as part of treatment for mouth cancer in 2015.

Mr Coughlan, who had an ulcer at the base of his mouth, was diagnosed with mouth cancer in January 2015. He was advised he would have to have a sliver of the inner aspect of his lower jaw removed. But, it was claimed, far more extensive surgery than he was allegedly informed about or allegedly consented to was undertaken and that he allegedly was not informed a plate and screws were to be inserted.

In February 2015, Mr Coughlan underwent a tracheostomy, a bilateral neck dissection, and removal of a part of the jaw bone. He was discharged from the hospital after several weeks.

It was claimed that post-operatively, his neck incision wound did not heal well and he also had to have radiotherapy.

He continued to suffer ongoing problems. It was claimed he was informed in August 2015 that a plate and screws had been inserted as part of his original surgery. He had to have a further repair procedure in the jaw area in November 2015 and he was discharged from hospital in mid-December 2015.

Mr Coughlan sought a second opinion and was admitted to a Dublin hospital in September 2016 for further operative intervention.

It was claimed there was an alleged failure to treat Mr Coughlan properly and that he was allegedly caused to develop an infection. It is further claimed Mr Coughlan had to undergo numerous repair surgeries.

It was claimed Mr Coughlan has severe restriction of shoulder movement and head and neck movements and is unable to hold his head in its natural position.

The claims were denied and it was contended the surgery, repair, and care were appropriate.

On the third day of the case today, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy was told the case had been settled and could be struck out.

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