Monday 27 February 2017

Lack of dignity was the worst thing of all for bereaved

Nicola AndersonNicola Anderson

The Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland
The Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

For each of the eight tragedies at the heart of the Portlaoise crisis, it is the loneliness, the confusion and the callous lack of dignity that is hardest to process.

Baby Joshua, whose tiny, flawless body was left battered and bruised after being crammed into a box too small to contain even his newborn remains.

Baby Mary Kate with her mop of black hair - whom a pediatrician told the family appeared physically 'perfect' when delivered stillborn.

Little Nathan, whose mother Natasha left a Christmas present on his grave.

Chilling circumstance has left eight families bereft amid anger, sorrow and recriminations, in an Ireland which up until very recently was pronounced one of the safest places in the world in which you could give birth.

But many of the families said the most traumatic thing about their experience was the lack of human compassion they had received at this most difficult times in their lives.

The Hiqa report says: "The death of a baby is an extremely traumatic experience for a patient and their family to endure. Failure to display understanding of a patient's loss, or mistreatment by healthcare staff, only serves to compound their distress."

Appallingly, the report also highlights how "overall" parents felt they had been shown "a lack of empathy, sensitivity and advocacy".

For Amy Delahunt and her husband, Ollie, from Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, it was the lies that were the worst thing about the death of their baby. They had been waiting for years to have a child when Amy became pregnant at the end of 2012. She was attending the University Maternity Hospital in Limerick and was working as a schoolteacher in Portlaoise.

Then in May 2013, at 34 weeks, Amy became concerned that something was wrong because the baby did not seem to be moving as much as before and, contacting her obstetrician in Limerick, said that she was just five minutes from Portlaoise hospital and asked if she should just go there.

The obstetrician agreed and Amy presented for a scan at Portlaoise.

The doctor told her that there was "nothing wrong" and that the movements were typical for 34 weeks gestation.

A week later, on May 28, 2013, Mary Kate was delivered stillborn in Limerick. She had a mop of black hair and was looked over by a pediatrician, who told the family she appeared physically "perfect".

Their doctor said he had contacted Portlaoise and the consultant had got back to say that there was a "discrepancy" in the scan and that if she had seen it, she would have delivered the baby straight away.

"The doctor was very sympathetic and said that in her 18-and-a-half years, she had never seen it happen," said Ollie.

"We left it, thinking it would never happen again and they had learned from their mistakes."

It wasn't until the couple sat down to watch the 'Prime Time' investigation in January 2014 that they realised that their story was part of a wider picture.

"We were in complete disbelief and shock," said Ollie.

They were given a systems analysis review done on their case which contained a claim that Amy had discharged herself against medical advice.

"When I read this, I had to clear my name and take action for Mary Kate's sake," said Amy.

Having read the Hiqa report, the couple say the managers at Portlaoise have blood on their hands.

"Mary Kate's, Mark's, Nathan's, Joshua's....the hospital's inaction and passivity have caused all these babies, who should be here today, to die," she said.

Ollie said the couple have been deprived of their family because of pure chance, that Amy happened to present at Portlaoise Hospital.

"If it had been any other hospital in the country, Mary Kate would be here today," he said.

For Shauna Keyes and her partner Joey Cornally from Tullamore, Co Offaly, the traumatic experience of their son's birth and death was made worse by an implied claim that Shauna had something to do with her son's death, because of her weight or because Joshua's death may have been resulted from "a blow" in the womb.

The couple went on to have a daughter, Maisie, who is now five months old - returning to Portlaoise Hospital for her birth.

After the tragic death of Joshua six years earlier, when his tiny remains had been put into a box too small to contain him, it was a completely different experience, said Shauna.

Baby Joshua Keyes died an hour after being delivered by Caesarean section in the hospital on October 28, 2009.

He had been deprived of oxygen during birth because oxytocin had been used, despite a lowering fetal heartbeat.

Shauna has now "forgiven" the hospital staff for what happened - but says she will never give birth again to another child.

"No, no, I just couldn't do it again now, not after all that happened," said Shauna, adding that she now had her daughter who is "thriving."

She said the most traumatic thing about Joshua's birth and death was the complete lack of aftercare and at being "rushed out the door".

Now that the door has been blown wide open on what really happened in Portlaoise, the families are hopeful that their suffering will not have been in vain.

Irish Independent

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