Sunday 25 February 2018

'Doctor said our baby would have lived if we'd got to hospital sooner'

Parents tell inquest how home birth went wrong

Sarah Williams and Emmet Heneghan arrive at Castlebar Coroner's Court
Sarah Williams and Emmet Heneghan arrive at Castlebar Coroner's Court

THE parents of a baby boy who was stillborn after an attempted home birth say they were told by a doctor that their son would be alive if they had arrived at the hospital an hour earlier.

The planned home birth of baby Kai David Williams Heneghan in Louisburgh, Co Mayo, was abandoned and the infant's mother, Sarah Williams, was rushed to Mayo General Hospital after the heartbeat began to diminish.

Shortly afterwards, Kai was delivered, but was stillborn.

Contradictory evidence was given to Mayo Coroner's Court yesterday by Ms Williams, her partner and the midwife, Christina Engel from Ballinrobe.

Emmet Heneghan, Ms Williams's partner, described the scenes from that night as "farcical" as the baby's heartbeat began to fade. He said he decided they should go to the hospital – but the midwife's car wouldn't start as it had been filled with "dirty diesel".

There was a gap of 45 minutes between when it was evident the baby was in distress, and when they left for the hospital in Castlebar.


Kai's mother told the court that she had planned a home birth in a birthing pool as her two sisters had delivered six children between them by home births and she wanted to deliver her child as naturally as possible.

She was described as being an 'optimum candidate' for a home birth and was 11 days overdue when she went into labour on May 23, 2011.

Mr Heneghan said that at 10.20pm, the midwife said she could see the baby's lovely dark head of hair. At that point he had texted his mother to say "any minute now".

From there on, the labour intensified, with Christina saying she saw the baby's head but it would retract and show and retract. This went on until 2.15am.

"Personally, I felt during this period things weren't going accordingly," said Mr Heneghan.

"There seemed to be no progress for the amount of effort put in, considering Christina had seen the baby's head at 10.20pm.

"Sarah got out of the birthing pool many times and was on the couch, on the floor, on her knees . . . 99pc of the time.

"I was extremely stressed and concerned at what was going on around me. Sarah commented it was taking too long and she couldn't push him out."

He said that at around 12.30am or shortly afterwards he saw and heard the baby's heartbeat diminish. He could see his partner was struggling and by the time he decided he had witnessed enough he "was more or less sure the child was gone" and his concern was for Sarah.

He recalled saying, "let's go to the hospital" as the midwife couldn't get a reading on the heartbeat.

Ms Engel, a self-employed community midwife, said she called the hospital to declare an emergency transfer as soon as she noticed the foetal heartbeat decelerating.

A decision was made not to call an ambulance as it would take too long to reach the family home and return to Castlebar – a distance of almost 50 miles.

They got to the hospital delivery suite at 3am where staff did an ultrasound on the baby.

However, they couldn't get a reading and baby Kai was stillborn at 3.23am.

"They put him on my chest for a second or two before they cut the cord," Ms Williams said in evidence.

After baby Kai was delivered, doctors attempted to resuscitate him for 29 minutes, after which Ms Williams, according to her statement, said: "Let him go, and take me with him."

She added: "They took Emmet out of the room and told him Kai was dead. They then came back and told me. They told me it wasn't my fault and that I was not to blame myself and that sometimes these things happen in the hospital, too."

Ms Williams said she never received any documentation or correspondence or paperwork from the midwife.

Both Mr Heneghan and Ms Engel gave contradictory evidence over who made the decision to go to hospital, about the regularity with which the baby's heartbeat was being monitored in the final hours and over who tried to start Ms Engel's car.

Mr Heneghan told the inquest that in the delivery room after Kai was stillborn, Ms Engel said she would "never do another home birth" and kept saying: "I am so sorry, I am so sorry."

In evidence yesterday, Ms Engel denied stating in the hospital after the stillbirth she would never do another home birth and also denied being reluctant to transfer her patient to hospital.

She also said she carried out regular heartbeat checks during the attempted delivery and denied her car was unreliable.

Ms Williams told the inquest that a doctor told her after Kai was stillborn that had they left for the hospital earlier, her son would be alive.

The hearing continues today.

By Tom Shiel and Neill O'Neill

Irish Independent

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