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Pretoria - The MEC for Health in Mpumalanga has agreed to pay more than R15.7 million in damages to the mother of a 6-year-old boy who is blind after the nursing staff at the Witbank Provincial Hospital exposed him to too much oxygen when he was born.

Renier van Aswegen’s mother, Mary Rossouw, initially claimed more than R19m in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

The health authorities accepted full liability for his blindness and this week agreed to pay a total of R15 714 628 in damages. This amount included R9.7m for Renier’s future medical expenses and R1.4m for general damages.

The money will be held in a trust and used as and when the child needs it to make his life easier.

The family live on a farm in the Delmas area.

Renier was born prematurely - at 33 weeks - in June 2013 and spent the first 10 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital. He received oxygen via nasal prongs for respiratory distress syndrome.

After he was moved to a normal ward, he continued to receive supplementary oxygen, until he was eventually discharged.

His mother later noticed that his eyes tended to roll backwards and had him tested at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria. He was diagnosed as suffering from the condition of retinopathy of prematurity, the result of being exposed to too much oxygen after birth.

Renier’s mother is blaming the medical staff, including the doctors and specialists, at the hospital for the fact that her child is now blind in both eyes.

She said this was due to their negligence in not regularly monitoring and examining him after birth.

They also failed to monitor the concentration of oxygen that was administered to Renier so as to avoid the development of retinopathy of prematurity.

The court was told Renier received supplementary oxygen after he was released from the intensive care unit without the doctors checking the levels of oxygen in his blood.

The doctors and nurses were accused of not implementing the steps outlined by the Department of Health’s prevention of blindness guidelines. The doctors were also supposed to screen the child after six or seven weeks of him having received additional oxygen.

Experts told the court that if this happened, the condition could have been diagnosed earlier and he could have been treated earlier. If this was done, his blindness could have been prevented.

In terms of the health guidelines, all babies born at 33 weeks or less should be screened by an ophthalmologist.

The first examination should take place between five and seven weeks after birth. Screening should continue every two weeks, until the baby reaches term.

Pretoria News