Saturday 21 April 2018

Grieving mother begged doctor not to break waters shortly before baby died at hospital

The devastated parents of baby Conor James Whelan, Siobhan & Andrew arrive at Cavan Courthouse for his inquest. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
The devastated parents of baby Conor James Whelan, Siobhan & Andrew arrive at Cavan Courthouse for his inquest. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Greg Harkin

A grieving mother wept as she told an inquest into the death of her new-born baby how she had begged a medic not to break her waters in the minutes before she and her baby became critically ill.

Siobhan Whelan, (40), from Drumora, Ballyjamesduff, was giving evidence to coroner Dr Mary Flanagan at Cavan Court House into the death of her baby Conor at Cavan General Hospital on May 14, 2014. The boy survived for just 17 and a half hours.

Mrs Whelan had been suffering from a case of undiagnosed vasa praevia, an obstetric complication in which fetal blood vessels cross or run near the internal orifice of the uterus.

The mother, who has two daughters, now aged 12 and eight, wiped away tears as she recalled her arrival at the hospital on May 13.

In her heart-breaking testimony to the jury of seven women and three men, she said she and her husband Andrew had been joking when they arrived at the hospital just after 12.40pm.

But as she walked to the maternity ward she realised she was bleeding.

“Andrew ran ahead of me looking and shouted for help and I started panicking too, shouting for help,” she said.

Mrs Whelan said she had been worried about the pregnancy having had two miscarriages in 2012 and 2013.

She said she had been worried about a low-lying placenta and when a scan in March had failed to give a clear picture of her pregnancy, she was referred for another examination.

Despite this, she never received the second scan, she said, instead being reassured a week later that her pregnancy was fine.

“At every clinic after March 21, 2014, I kept asking them to check my placenta,” said the mother.

“On every occasion I was told to ‘stop worrying, that there was nothing to worry about with my placenta’. I was even told on one occasion ‘you are not still going on about that’.”

After she began bleeding, she said she was told in the maternity unit on May 13 that everything was fine.

“My husband and I were so concerned we even asked could they just do a c-section to get the baby out safe. They told us again to relax, that everything was okay,” said Mrs Whelan.

“Dr Rupa performed a vaginal examination…more bleeding followed. My husband got very anxious when he saw more blood and begged them to do something.

“He reminded them that a baby had died at the hospital two weeks ago and could they please do something before someone else’s life was put at risk.

“They beeped a senior gynaecologist a few times but there seemed to be no urgency.”

Mrs Whelan said she was told again that everything was fine but her husband “pleaded with them to do something.”

Mr Whelan told the inquest later that he had said ‘this is like a scene from ‘Carry On Laughing’ only it’s not funny’.

After a gynaecologist – Dr Rita Mehta - arrived he had asked: “What are they waiting for…someone to die?”

Mrs Whelan told the hearing that she had again asked for a caesarian section.

“I was pleading ‘no more instruments up me…please give me a section’ but she (the gynaecologists) wanted to rupture my membranes. Ann (the nurse) said to her ‘before you rupture membranes, would you not consider doing a test on the baby’s head to see how the baby is doing'.

“The doctor went ahead and broke my waters. ‘There, waters are broken now’ she said and discarded the instrument used abruptly behind her.

“After a few minutes the nurse said she wanted a word with her (the gynaecologist) and brought her outside the room.

“Within a minute or two the nurse came back in and said ‘we are on the move, Andrew grab the trolley’.

“She shouted orders saying the theatre and paediatric team to be called immediately.

“There was pandemonium, we were charging down the corrider as the nurse shouted ‘Category One, Category One’.”

She said in the confusion a nurse was knocked to the ground by the trolley.

“Andrew was in pieces as he thought I had fallen off the trolley,” said Siobhan.

She alleged: “Dr Rita cut me open without me being fully under sedation. I was told this by the nurse Ann Arnott in the ICU after.

“She told me that Dr Rory Paige was very distressed that Dr Rita was only thinking of the baby now and not the mother.

“According to Ann he was roaring and shouting at Dr Rita to stop, that they must wait for the patient to be fully sedated and that he literally threw himself across me to stop her.”

Conor was born at 1.49pm and weighed eight pounds. He had to be revived.

Mrs Whelan was then given life-saving surgery.

Conor was rushed to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin but as he couldn’t be saved he was taken back to Cavan hospital to spend his last eight hours with his parents and sisters.

“His two sisters, who were so excited to meet their baby brother, now faced the realisation that he won’t be coming home with us. We struggled to tell them this as it’s all so unreal to us,” said Siobhan.

She said she later found out that Conor had opened his eyes twice but she couldn’t see them. He died on the morning of May 14.

She also alleged that one medic had said to her in the ICU: “I guess that’s nature’s way of taking care of things’.”

Mrs Whelan claimed that she was told a few days later by another medic that Conor had died because her membranes had been ruptured.

When she told this medic – Dr Finan – that Dr Rita had performed the procedure, he (Dr Finan) was “so shocked that he staggered back into the wall”.

Under questioning by her own solicitor Roger Murray, from Callan Tansey Solicitors, Siobhan Whelan told the court that she faced a choice of being bitter and angry or campaigning to ensure this didn’t happen again.

“All pregnant women in this country should be afforded equality of care. There needs to be a scanning of pregnant women at 20 weeks. We are not getting this in Cavan.

“Our services here in Cavan and other areas needs to be fully resourced and funded like they have in Dublin and Cork. Dublin is too far to travel. We need these services on our doorstep.”

The hearing continues.

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