Evie Toombes, 20, was born with spina bifida and sometimes spends 24 hours-a-day connected up to tubes, but has forged a career in showjumping, competing against both disabled and able-bodied riders.
Last month, in a unique ‘wrongful conception’ damages claim, Evie, from Skegness, sued Dr Philip Mitchell over his failure to advise her mother Caroline Toombes, 50, to take vital supplements before getting pregnant.
She claimed that if the doctor had told her mother she needed to take folic acid supplements to minimise the risk of spina bifida affecting her baby, she would have put off getting pregnant until she had done so – and as a result Evie would never have been born at all.
And in a landmark ruling in London today, Judge Rosalind Coe QC backed Evie’s case and awarded her the right to a huge compensation payout.
Her lawyers earlier said the amount Evie is claiming has not yet been calculated, but confirmed it would be ‘big’ since it would cover the cost of her extensive lifelong care needs.
The judge ruled that had Evie’s mother been ‘provided with the correct recommended advice, she would have delayed attempts to conceive.’
She added: ‘In the circumstances, there would have been a later conception, which would have resulted in a normal healthy child.’
The court had heard how Evie’s mother had made a ‘very precious decision to start a family’ after losing her parents when she was young, and had refrained from sexual intercourse, ‘until after they had received advice’ from the GP.
The ground-breaking ruling means that a healthcare professional can now be found liable for negligent pre-conception advice which results in the birth of a child with a serious health condition.
What is spina bifida and how does folic acid help prevent it?
Spina bifida is a fault in the development of the spine and spinal cord that leaves a gap in the spine.
About 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the US, according to the CDC . In the UK, approximately 1 in 1,000 babies are born with the condition.
Most cases are detected before birth, at the 20-week scan.
The most serious form of the disease is called myelomeningocele. In myelomeningocele, the spinal column remains open along the bones making up the spine.
The membranes and spinal cord push out to create a sac in the baby’s back.
This sometimes leaves the nervous system vulnerable to infections that may be fatal.
In most cases surgery is carried out to close the gap in the spine after birth. But damage to the nervous system will usually already have taken place, resulting in:
- partial or total paralysis of the lower limbs
- bowel and urinary incontinence
- loss of skin sensation
Folic acid, which is also known as vitamin B9, is essential to healthy development during early pregnancy and a deficiency can lead to neural tube defects in the foetus, including spina bifida.
Earlier this month it was announced that the vitamin will be added to flour to reduce the risk of birth defects.
In what experts described as a ‘momentous day’, ministers decided that white and brown flour should be fortified with the vitamin to ensure women get an adequate dose during the early stages of pregnancy.
Folic acid helps the body make healthy red blood cells. It is present in green vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts – but pregnant women need a significantly higher dose.
Women who are trying to become pregnant are already advised to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid before they conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Experts – who have long campaigned for the move – claim its inclusion in flour will cut the number of cases by 200 a year, roughly 20 per cent of the average annual UK total.