Saturday 16 December 2017

'I didn't know I was a ticking time-bomb, that we had just under 24 hours left with our son'

Siobhan Whelan with husband Andrew at Conor’s inquest. Photo: Teevan Photography
Siobhan Whelan with husband Andrew at Conor’s inquest. Photo: Teevan Photography
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

A heartbroken mother whose new-born son died as a result of medical misadventure has called for equal rights for all pregnant women in Irish hospitals.

Siobhan Whelan, whose son Conor was born by emergency C-section on May 13 2014 and who died just 17-and-a-half hours later, was suffering from an undiagnosed obstetric condition known as vasa praevia. Ms Whelan believes if the condition had been picked up during her numerous scans during her pregnancy and she had been able to give birth to Conor through a planned C-section, he would be alive today.

"We've had different families sending messages of support and thanking us for being so brave and improving things for other women and we don't want anyone to be under the illusion that things have changed yet," she told the Irish Independent.

An inquest into baby Conor's death recommended that all pregnant women in Cavan be given a 20-week anomaly scan and for an obstetric radiologist to be appointed immediately which is more likely to detect any abnormalities with the placenta or the baby. The jury also recommended that a full appraisal of the maternity unit be carried out.

Mrs Whelan recalled the day her son was born: "I had the joyous feeling of going into labour nine days overdue, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our son Conor, a surprise for my husband Andrew and our two daughters, but I had known from an earlier antenatal clinic that we were expecting a little man about the place, a little trucking companion for daddy, maybe even a future star hurler.

"What I didn't know was that I was a ticking time bomb, that we had just under 24 hours left with our precious son whom we already loved so much.

Siobhan Whelan
Siobhan Whelan

"If only we had known of vasa praevia our story could have been so different," she added.

The condition is rare but well recognised and it means blood vessels supplying the baby are exposed.

There are two types of vasa praevia; Type 1, involves an unusual umbilical cord insertion through the membranes close to the cervix. Type 2 involves the blood vessels running across the cervix inserting through the membranes to the bilobed (divided) placenta.

Siobhan was scanned a number of times during her pregnancy, none of these scans picked up that her placenta was in two pieces and despite a query about her placenta being raised she went unchecked for this condition.

Andrew and Siobhan with Conor
Andrew and Siobhan with Conor

When she arrived at the hospital in labour, she suffered a haemorrhage outside the labour room, and later despite their protest and pleas for a C-section, an Artificial Membrane Rupture (ARM), to break her waters was carried out.

If Siobhan's split placenta and abnormal cord insertion had been picked up on a scan it would have raised a red flag for the condition. Other risk factors include a low lying placenta, IVF, Twins/Multiple births, any unexplained bleeding at any stage in the pregnancy or recent uterine surgery.

A more detailed scan using Colour Doppler would have picked up the exposed foetal vessels and indicated the condition.

She said: "Early diagnosis and correct management is what is required. Correct management includes steroids to mature baby's lungs, complete pelvic rest and preterm hospitalisation at approximately 30 weeks and scheduled delivery by C-section."

The condition is rare (about 1 in every 2,500 pregnancies) but the chances of it are increased in twin pregnancies or multiple births and in IVF pregnancies (1 in 300).

Her condition was not detected and it was not thought of on the day of Conor's delivery.

Conor was born without a heartbeat, but his heartbeat was revived after 20 minutes and he was rushed to the Rotunda. He died from multi-organ hypoxic ischaemic injury, which means his organs failed due to blood and oxygen deprivation.

'Every expectant woman is entitled to equal rights, and an equal standard of basic care which should not be by a postcode lottery and not by whether you are a private or a public patient. Our concern is that without and anomaly scan or obstetric radiologist being available in Cavan that any concern or anomalies wil go unrecognised and the patient won't get referred to a foetal specialist unit," says Siobhan.

"We must make sure that all 19 maternity units have a suitably qualified obstetric radiologist to perform these scans which can be the difference of life and death.

"The Whelan family hope VP screening will become part of routine antenatal care but for now anyone who falls into the risk group needs to insist on being screened for vasa praevia." Information about vasa praevia can be found at:

Irish Independent

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