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Aoife Bennett (R) with her mother Mary outside the High Court yesterday. RTÉ News

'I knew there was a fight in them': Woman at centre of narcolepsy case shocked at ‘adversarial’ proceedings

Aoife Bennett (26) settled her case in the High Court with no admission of liability for an undisclosed sum yesterday.

A WOMAN WHO developed narcolepsy after being given the swine flu vaccine has said she was shocked at the “adversarial” nature of a 21-day court case which has left the State facing estimated costs of up to €4 million. 

Aoife Bennett (26) was administered with Pandemrix vaccine in school in December 2009 as part of the State-led campaign against the swine flu pandemic. 

Bennett, who is from Naas in Co Kildare, subsequently took a case against the Minister for Health, HSE, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and the Health Products Regulatory Authority after being diagnosed with narcolepsy. 

On Tuesday, Bennett settled her case in the High Court with no admission of liability for an undisclosed sum.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke this morning, Bennett said she was satisfied with her case’s outcome but that she did not expect how “tough” it would be. 

“I didn’t’ really know what to expect going in,” she said. “Really what we wanted was that I’d have enough supports to live my life and that’s what we got.”

Bennett said that prior to receiving the vaccine on 10 December 2009, she “had a very active social life” but that “it just changed very drastically”. 

Bennett said that while shopping with a friend in Dublin City two weeks after her vaccine, she found herself confused and “felt like she needed to lie down”. 

On Christmas Day, said Bennett: “I found myself sneaking up the stairs to go to bed for the day and I’d to absolutely force myself to come down for Christmas dinner.

“After that I was up in bed all day and I didn’t know what was wrong. I was just absolutely exhausted. And the Christmas holidays kind of continued that way”. 

Bennett said that in March 2011, her Mother read a case relating to a young girl with similar symptoms to Bennett after receiving the swine flu vaccine and at the end of April she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. 

Describing her symptoms following her diagnosis, Bennett said her neck would suddenly drop, her voice-box wouldn’t work, her eyes would roll, her arms dropped and at times she’d “fully collapse to the floor”. 

‘Really tough to watch’

Bennett told RTÉ this morning that she was “not expecting” the level of questioning in the High Court during her case hearing. 

“It was a very adversarial approach…I got quite a shock seeing my Mum going first,” said Bennett. “It did definitely prepare me for when I went up”. 

“I knew there was such a fight in them and that I’d to do what I had to do really. It was really tough to watch. I think it was actually tougher to watch than to do it myself.”

Bennett said that she was “disappointed” there was no admission of liability following her case. 

“I don’t know why the Minister for Health has let it go on so long or why the Department of Health let it go to the courts,” said Bennett. 

“I just hope that the rest of the families won’t have to go through what we had to go through in court. It was very difficult, very time-consuming, draining, your life on hold and I just hope that won’t be the case for the rest of the families”. 

Most countries have a no-fault compensation schemes for people who suffer injury arising from vaccination.

Ireland, however, does not despite a scheme being recommended by an Oireachtas Committee in 2001. 

In a statement yesterday, SOUND – Sufferers Of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder – said: “We thank Aoife and the Bennett family for taking the first landmark case.

“However, we are disappointed that the State saw fit to fight the case in court,” the group said, adding that “approximately 100 other children and young adults must now await the outcome of their own legal cases, which the State insists must be taken on an individual basis.

“The State should ensure that this is not a long drawn-out legal process, causing further hardship,” the group said. 

“From the start, the State’s response to what transpired has been painfully slow, and this remains a difficult and protracted process for the families involved.

“SOUND wants the State to fulfil the duty of care it is morally bound to provide to children and young adults who now have to move through life with Narcolepsy.

“The cost to the State of this action alone can be measured in millions,” it said. 

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