'I just wanted me and baby safe' - Grieving mother speaks for the first time about pleading for her son's life
A grieving mother has spoken for the first time about pleading for a c-section to save her baby's live at Cavan General hospital in May 2014.
Siobhan Whelan's son Conor died 17 hours after birth. An inquest into his death returned a verdict of medical misadventure two weeks ago.
He died as a result of brain injury caused by a rare fetal condition that went undetected. Siobhan believes Conor would be alive today if there was greater awareness of the condition shewas diagnosed with - vasa praevia - and if proper scans had been done.
Speaking about her ordeal for the first time on RTE Prime Time, Siobhan Whelan recalls her horror experience of pleading for her son's life.
"I discovered I was pregnant with Conor around September 2013. It was an anxious time having suffered two miscarriages previously. We were nervous and anxious as you would be after something like that. I was always very alert to anything going on. And ready to pre-empt anything."
On March 12 Siobhan and her husband Andrew attended an antenatal clinic where she became concerned about the baby.
Siobhan was called for another scan on March 21. She recalled the sonographer was having a difficulty and called in a senior colleague.
"The two ladies were scanning and they both said it wasn’t clear enough and they couldn’t be sure. They asked me what consultant I was under. They told me I was in great hands and I wasn’t to worry. He would do his own internal scan to make up his own mind."
Neither the sonagrapher or her senior colleague could recall this conversation in evidence to the inquest. The scan report did not give rise to concerns.
At her next antenatal appointment Siobhan didn’t see her consultant. The doctor she did see did not have concerns.
"And I said are you sure you have the right patient file in front of you and she said absolutely. There is nothing wrong with your placenta. I was flabbergasted but they’re the doctors. I took them at their word. I got no scan that day. She just listened in for the heartbeat. I was still uneasy."
Siobhan was due to be induced on May 14 but went into Labour the day before.
"I’d put the two girls on the bus for school. I started to feel twinges. I was delighted. A friend rang and I was chatting to a friend. I got a big contraction. She said to me are you in labour. I was delighted I didn’t have to go through that induction. I rang Andrew and said I think it’s happening."
After being checked into the pregnancy unit at Cavan hospital, Siobhan noticed blood dripping down her leg.
"And I don’t know why I looked down and I seen drops of blood and I pulled up my trouser leg and I seen blood running down my legs. And I started screeching for Andrew to get help. And he was running up and down the corridors screaming for someone to help us. I froze on the spot.
"I remember one midwife coming from here and another midwife coming from the right and they got us into the labour room. I was afraid to move.
"We could her Conor’s heartbeat straight away. They kept saying everything was fine. I was fine. Conor was fine. I was roaring and shouting about my placenta and all about the queries in March. They got an ultrasound machine and did a bedside ultrasound and they said the placenta was fine there was nothing wrong. Then they did some internal examinations.
"Andrew could see more blood coming every time they did this. He became very upset and angry with him and kept saying I’ve seen two children being born. This never happened. There’s something wrong here. We begged and pleaded for a section. They kept telling us to calm down and relax. That everything was fine and Conor was fine."
Siobhan said she began alarmed when doctors tried to break her waters.
"Because I had my waters artificially broken for my second child and I recognised the instrument in her hand and I went oh no, you’re not doing that. And I tried to shimmy up the table away from her and I begged them not no break my waters.
"That I wanted a section. I just wanted me and baby safe.
"But despite our protests my water were broken artificially. Within minutes after that the midwife told the doctor she needed to have words with her outside. Then the midwife came back in and said ‘Andrew we’re on the move now. Grab the trolley. I need you to help turn the trolley. And she shouted orders for theatre to be called. Ring the alarm. Paediatrics to be called. There was a big dash now to get us to theatre.
"I remember charging up the corridor. Bodies came out of the wall to help push this trolley. A nurse fell in front of the trolley. I remember them roaring at her to roll, get out of the way, that they couldn’t stop. Andrew I could hear screeching in the background cos he thought I’d fallen off the trolley. I remember in theatre, them putting the screen up in front of me. Them telling me to take deep breaths. I was terrified. Something hurt. I was scared I was going to die.
"I often carry a big guilt that I begged for my life more than Conor’s then but I was afraid I was going to die and the two little women at home would have no mammy. I remember the midwife patting my hand and telling me I’m not leaving you I’m right by your side. And then I was gone."
Siobhan recalled how her consultant told her she had an irregular placenta.
"There was queries raised in March and then the assured me at antenatal clinics after that that I was fine and now you’re telling me that i had the most irregular placenta ever?"
After Conor was born it took 20 minutes to revive him and he was transferred to Rotunda hospital.
"I remember thinking he’s not going to die. He’s so big. Our two girls were brought in to meet him as well. The staff took photos of us all. They put him in my arms. Because I was in such pain and everything I couldn’t move or do anything with him. He was just sat like that.
"I remember he actually tried to open his eyes twice. I remember Andrew and my sisters leaning in and they were loving looking into his eyes and I couldn’t look into his eyes and that he never got to see his mammy. But they decided to withdraw life treatment slowly . They thought he would only live for 20 minutes after they withdrew life support. But he didn’t. He went on till half seven in the morning.
"I remember his big sister holding him and he held up his two arms and I remember thinking oh my God this baby isn’t going to die. What have we done withdrawing life support. But in reality he did pass away at half seven in the morning. And we’re devastated."
Siobhan suffered a massive internal bleed and had to undergo a second emergency operation to save her life. On the day after Conor died hospital management called to her recovery room.
"Management came in to see us on the Wednesday- the day Conor died. We were very hurt and angry and devastated. And we demanded an external investigation to be done. We know this shouldn’t have happened. And they came back the next day and I was on my own.
"They were explaining the condition of Vasa Previa to me and how they felt it contributed to Conor’s death. And that when my membranes ruptured, this was Conor’s life line and I should think of it like a tsunami that when the membranes ruptured the vessels were swept away because they were unprotected. I asked them to repeat this. Were my membranes my waters. Were we taking about the same thing. And they said yes. I was to think of it like a clear balloon and when it burst that was the effect. I informed them then that my membranes did not rupture by themselves. That despite our protest they were artificially ruptured. So that was how Conor’s lifeline taken away."
The inquest heard evidence which attributed Conor’s death to a bleed that occurred hours before the waters were broken. However this was contested by other expert evidence.
Conor’s death came shortly after another baby death in Cavan General and the hospital found itself in at the centre of a media storm.
Siobhan said that "some good" has come from Conor's death.
"Something good had to come out of Conor’s death. His life couldn’t have been in vain. That if we were to do anything at all that his life mattered. And lessons would have been learned and and saving precious lives."
"So now I’m urging all medical people to make themselves aware of vasa previa and how to manage it correctly and know the risk factors. If at any stage a mother turns up with unexplained bleeding test the origin of the blood. In our case there might not have been enough time to get that result. But if a mothers has unexplained bleeding and vital signs and CTG is non-reassuring and you’ve ruled out the other two think of vasa previa. And move quickly for a c section and don’t delay. Better to be safe than sorry."
According to RTÉ's Prime Time, expectant mothers are still not offered 20 week anomaly scans in many of the smaller maternity units around the country. Despite funding being approved to provide this service in Cavan General in 2013, the inquest into Conor’s death was told it still does not have the staff to do them.
Recommendations were that there would be a review in relation to the obstetric dept in Cavan by the HSE. The second is that efforts would be made to introduce foetal medicine specialist training. And the third would be that there would be on-going review and training in relation to what happened.
These recommendations are enormously significant and important for the family.
"Thankfully the jury came back with a unanimous verdict. And the recommendation that they made totally..... I fell vindicated. That people believed us and could see the failures in service and that they couldn’t let it go on and that Conor’s life did matter and that his little legacy in his short life with us would bring some good. Bring better scanning and equality of care to Cavan to please God all maternity units in Ireland and that everybody will be afforded equal right and equality of care."