Massive support for four young children who urged Leo Varadkar to make hospitals safer after mum tragically died
Published 09/06/2015 | 13:34
The widower of a woman who died just hours after giving birth said he has received messages of support from thousands of people after presenting the health minister with a heartrending message from his four young children.
Mum-of-four Sally Rowlette was just 36 years of age when she died from a severe form of pre-eclampsia. She was mother to Leanne (then aged seven), Abbey (five) and two-year-old son Joseph when she passed away.
She passed away just hours after giving birth to her fourth child Sally in Sligo Regional Hospital in February 2013.
Speaking to 2FM broadcaster Ryan Tubridy earlier today, her husband Sean Rowlette told of how he had to pick up the pieces for his four children.
He recently met with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar in January where he presented him with a letter from his four children.
Mr Rowlette told the broadcaster he was having breakfast with his children when they saw him carrying two letters from family members to give to the minister.
They then asked if they could write one themselves.
It read: "To Minister Leo Varadkar: We miss our mum so much every day. Can you please make sure this will never happen to any other mum again and make our hospitals safe. Signed Leanne, Abbey, Josephy and baby Sally."
"When I met the minister, I handed him the letter and he picked up that letter and he read it. And he paused for a minute or two and then he read it a second time. He was shaking his head," Mr Rowlette recalled.
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Mr Rowlette told the minister he had very little support from the State for himself and his four children after Sally's passing.
A week after his wife died, a grieving Sean picked up his newborn daughter from the hospital and became the primary caretaker of his four children.
"I was a danger to myself and my kids, I was grieving at the time. I was getting up feeding a newborn baby every two hours. I was exhausted.
" I didn't know what had hit me. Looking back, I just feel it wasn't right and from the system I had no help."
He was eventually given seven hours a week home help - consisting of one hour every morning.
When he asked if this could be seven hours in one day once a week, he claimed a representative told him it "wasn't a babysitting service" and Mr Rowlette stopped working with them.
After hearing Mr Rowlette's story, the minister agreed that support mechanisms should be in place for when such tragedy occurs to help families.
Read more here: Mother 'should have been in hospital earlier'
Speaking about his late wife, he told listeners of the Ryan Tubridy Show that they had been together since they were 17.
The teenage sweethearts married nine years later and had three children.
"She was a wonderful wife and good friend, a very good family person, loved her family around her, did everything for her kids," he recalled.
The father-of-four told Ryan his wife experienced one instance of high blood pressure in one of her three previous pregnancies but she recovered shortly afterwards and they heard nothing more.
Her pregnancy with daughter Sally Jnr was unremarkable until four weeks beforehand when her "blood pressure had been creeping up".
The widower said they subsequently found out that his wife should have been kept in hospital for close monitoring when this occurred.
The day Sally went into labour was an ordinary day, Sean recalled.
"That day on the Saturday evening, we had the wee fella Joseph who was two at that time and we spent the day getting the room ready for the baby coming home and moving him into a new bed.
"Everything was normal [on the Sunday]. We had dinner and stuff. I was working in Dublin at the time. I used to leave at 3.30am in the morning so I went to bed early. At 11.30pm Sally called for me and said she was getting pains. I was delighted because I was at home and stuff like that.
"We sat on the bed and had a cup of tea. Sally didn't want to go in too soon. The time came when we had to go so we called a relative to come and mind the kids.
"And just before we left, Sally went into each room and kissed the three kids. She told them all goodnight and that she would see them tomorrow. I can see that image... it stays with me, you know.
"Then we went for Sligo and called half an hour ahead to tell them we're on the way. We're here and everything is fine. Sally went to the maternity ward and I went to park the car. I went up and she was sitting on the bed. The nurses were around her and that so everything seemed normal at that stage.
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"About 15 minutes later, all hell broke loose. Everyone started panicking and I asked what's wrong and they told me the baby's heartbeat had dropped. So they said we need to get to theatre and get the baby out.
"And we brought to Sally to theatre and then the baby had been delivered. And I walked into the theatre and Sally had been holding the baby on her chest. The baby had been born with a cleft lip which we had known from three months previous."
Sally asked her husband to ask staff if their daughter had a cleft lip or pallette - a nurse told him it was a cleft lip, describing it as a "minor problem".
"Sally smiled and was happy," Sean recalled.
The new parents noted their newborn's red hair, prompting Sally to say: "At least I got my red-haired baby now".
"Shortly after that, things went downhill. And Sally went into ICU.
"I went in at 4.30am and I knew things weren't looking good so I asked the consultant what was wrong.
"And the consultant told me everything was fine, that Sally had just had a baby and everything was fine. I was told to go home and that Sally would be up having breakfast in the morning
"But I didn't go home because I knew something was wrong.
"I thought when she was in ICU, she was in the best place.
"I stayed. I crept back in at 5.30am. I was asked to leave the room," he said.
Sean said he knew something was seriously wrong with his wife as she wasn't answering him when he was speaking to her.
"She was getting weak and not speaking, and not answering her what I was asking her.
"The last words I spoke to Sally... Sally had picked the name Shauna [for the baby].... I knew she had the name picked, I just wanted her to tell me."
At 6.30am, doctors delivered devastating news to Sean.
"I was told that Sally had a brain haemorrhage and to contact family members immediately. I was in the hospital on my own until that time. I contacted family and I knew something had been seriously wrong when the family have to be called.
"The family all came and the family were all around me that day and that night.
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"I was told at 11 o'clock that maybe she might be transferred to Beaumont but it didn't happen.
"They done the tests later on.... and we knew that Sally wasn't going to recover.
"She passed away the following day on the fifth.
"The night before she passed away, I was sitting by her bedside on my own for a little while and I had been looking at her and I wanted to see if anything good could come out of this terrible situation that we found ourselves in .
"I just looked at her and said maybe we could donate her organs to help somebody else out there. I asked one of the nurses and she said 'look, leave it with me and I'll come back to you'.
"The nurse came back to me and said we can donate her organs."
As the family and hospital prepared Sally for organ donation, Sean brought their three older children in to say goodbye to their mother.
"We had to bring the three kids into the hospital to say goodbye - we put them up on the hospital bed to hug her."
Not surprisingly, Sean's life changed beyond all recognition after his wife's passing. He had been a site engineer before Sally's death and working in Dublin - but the hours and commuting time did not a a lone parent of four young
"It was a very hard time.
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"I always was an outdoors person, I always worked outside and Sally would work in the house with the cooking and the cleaning..."
He told his children mummy wasn't coming home and tried to explain her death in the best manner he could.
But he often found it difficult to take about their late mother as he feared he would break down crying in front of them.
"After about a week, we brought the baby home to the house.
"I was handed the baby in the hospital. I never made bottles. I would have fed a baby on the odd occasion at home, changing nappies very few, not that I didn't want to do it....
"At the time, there was loads of help around, but they were my kids and I wanted to do what I felt that I wasn't a proper dad unless I done this for them.
"I carried on, with bits of help here and there."
He recalled how he decided to take baby Sally for a spin to Sligo one say and packed changing bag, stocking it with nappies, wipes, formula and clothes.
Sally cried on the way, and Sean pulled over to feed her.
"I had everything but I had no bottle. I learned the hard way," he said.
Sean told Ryan he's doing well now - but misses the little things.
"I'm doing grand. The kids keep me going. I get up with them in the morning and I put them to bed at night and you are sitting on your own in the house at night. It's very hard. I miss the simple things. Maybe watching the telly at night, a Chinese at the weekend. I don't do that any more. I find it very difficult, he said.
Earlier this year, a jury at Sligo Court returned a verdict of medical misadventure after hearing how a consultant should have brought Sally into Sligo Hospital weeks earlier to have the birth of her daughter, Sally Jnr, induced.
The three-day case also heard how a second consultant went home, leaving Sally in the care of nurses at the hospital's Intensive Care Unit during four critical hours.
During that time, she suffered a brain haemorrhage from which she died the next day, on February 5, last year.
Her death was caused by the severe high blood pressure illness HELLP syndrome, a form of pre-eclampsia.
Leading obstetrician, Dr Peter Boylan, from the National Maternity Hospital, gave expert evidence highlighting the hiring difficulties at hospitals. "There are difficulties in Ireland in recruiting high quality consultants and this is a particular problem when it comes to ICU consultants," he said.