Sunday 30 April 2017

Bereaved mother learned remains of her premature son 'forgotten' in coffin in hospital ward for four weeks

Letterkenny University Hostpital
Letterkenny University Hostpital
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

A bereaved mother, who learned that the remains of her premature son were left in a hospital ward for weeks, says parents must be informed of all aspects of their children’s burial in the future.

The woman identified only as Lisa told RTE Radio One's ‘This Week’ programme that she was blatantly lied to by officials at Letterkenny University Hospital in order not to “cause stress” to her after her premature baby Eoin died in the womb in the second trimester of her pregnancy in October 2016.

He suffered from a rare chromosomal disorder known as Turner’s Syndrome in which 99pc of babies are stillborn.

But instead of Eoin's remains being kept at the hospital’s mortuary and buried a week after his birth - as Lisa was told by hospital officials –she was devastated to learn that he was in fact left in a forgotten coffin in a gynaecology ward at the hospital for four weeks.

She was also forbidden from attending his actual burial in an unmarked grave at the ‘Little Angels’ plot at the hospital  - for what she was told were “private and confidential reasons” and still has no way of knowing where his remains are buried.

The hospital has apologised for having “failed” the Donegal woman.

However Lisa said no parent should ever have to endure the ordeal she went through again.

“I knew Eoin will always be with me but I just wanted him to be laid to rest that day and I really did think that he would be laid to rest of the 19th of October,” she told RTE.

But after returning to the hospital weeks later due to an infection following the difficult pregnancy, Lisa said she learned by chance from one of the staff members that Eoin had never been buried.

“I said ‘why not?’ and she said I’ll find out for you. He’s in the mortuary,” Lisa said, noting that the staff person told her he would be buried the following morning.

“I said ‘that was fine’ but we were going to the burial because my trust was gone with them as far as I was concerned. We were devastated that he wasn’t buried because I wanted him laid to rest. That was a big thing to me," she said.

“I just left. I was infuriated,” she said, adding she then wrote a formal letter of complaint to the hospital’s general manager.

But more horror was in store for her when she met with the hospital management in January to find out why Eoin was left in the mortuary for weeks and why she couldn’t attend the burial when she learned that he was left in a coffin in the gynaecology ward where she gave birth.

“I asked one of the ladies ‘do you mean to tell me that our child was forgot about?' She turned around and said 'yes and we are very sorry'.”

 “There was no explanation for it,” she said.

“I was told straight out that I was lied to and they were very sorry about it. That they were trying to relieve me of stress that I didn’t need at that time,” she added.

A letter from the hospital seen by RTE “acknowledges that Lisa and her partner were misled by a member of staff as to where the body was stored and apologises for the "deep hurt and distress which had been caused to both of you when [staff member] told you that your baby had not been buried and led you to believe your baby was in the mortuary when this was not the case".

"We are sorry that you were failed by Letterkenny University Hospital in relation to the burial of your son, Eoin, and that this was not carried out in the timescale and manner agreed with you. Unfortunately and sadly we cannot change that. We can and will, however, ensure that baby Eoin's legacy will be that this does not ever happen again."

However, Lisa said the letter of apology just added insult to injury.

"My child had to lie for four weeks for them to open their eyes to this. I don't understand how anyone could leave a human being, a baby, lying in a room for four weeks".

"I don't want anybody else to suffer the way we've suffered and continue to suffer. I don't think anybody should have to go through that and I just pray and hope to God that this never happens again."

"Every hospital has to put a protocol in place so that people know when they're going in, if they lose their baby that they know what's going to happen, that you can or can't go to the burial. They need to know all this before they make the decision."

Meanwhile, the Saolta Hospital Group, of which Letterkenny University Hospital is a member, said it could not discuss individual patients with the media but issued the following statement.

"We would like to take this opportunity to apologise again to the patient and her family for any distress caused. We have already revised our systems and are currently reviewing our policies for patient information and consent so as to ensure that we are in line with best international practice."

The HSE, meanwhile, said it has published the National Standards for Bereavement Care following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death in August 2016 and appointed a consultant obstetrician to implement the standards.

However, Lisa said there was nothing in the protocol that addressed the issues she raised.

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