Pretoria - The Premier of Mpumalanga has been ordered by the Pretoria High Court to pay R5.6 million in damages to the parents of a boy - now six - who received too much oxygen when he was born prematurely and subsequently went blind.
Leander du Preez was born in January 2006 - 28 weeks premature and weighing 1.1kg - at the Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit. His heartbeat was “poor and his cry weak”, it was stated in court papers.
He was on a ventilator in ICU for a month before being moved to a normal ward. There he received more oxygen for three and a half weeks.
Leander was not examined by an ophthalmologist during his stay in hospital. His parents were also not warned about the dangers of too much oxygen and that it was imperative to consult an eye specialist.
When Leander was four months old, his mother noticed a squint and that her son’s “eyes were shaking”.
She took him back to the hospital, where the ophthalmologist suggested it could be retinopathy.
At seven months, Leander was diagnosed with this eye disorder and his parents were told nothing could be done.
Leander’s distraught parents took him to Poland, where the eye surgery - with little success. He is now permanently blind. His pa ents have enrolled him at the Worcester School for the Blind.
A medical report said excessive oxygen administration in premature babies could be dire.
When the baby was discharged, none of the medical staff warned the parents of the possibility that he might develop an eye disease or could go blind.
A medical expert stated that the parents should have been told to have the baby checked for visual or any other problems following his care in hospital.
A specialist should have examined the baby regularly. If this had been done, Leander’s blindness could have been prevented.
“The first check-up of a premature baby, after discharge from hospital, is crucial for early detection of hidden problems that might have arisen,” the expert said.
The court was told it should be standard practice in any hospital that the parents be informed of the risks and how to treat a premature baby .
The hospital had not informed Leander’s parents about this.
They suspected something was wrong only when the baby was four months old and it was too late to do anything about it.
His parents held the staff and doctors of the hospital responsible for the child’s blindness and said they failed to put measures in place to prevent him from becoming blind.
The child would never be totally independent, would not be able to attend a mainstream school and would have to have further operations, they said.