Tuesday 24 September 2019

'We had just 42 hours with Laoise' - parents whose baby girl died after heart pierced during procedure

Irene Kavanagh and Cóilín Ó Scolaí, parents of tragic little Laoise Ní Scolaí, outside Dublin City Coroner’s Court. Photo: Mark Condren
Irene Kavanagh and Cóilín Ó Scolaí, parents of tragic little Laoise Ní Scolaí, outside Dublin City Coroner’s Court. Photo: Mark Condren
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

A grief-stricken father has told how he and his wife only had their newborn baby daughter for 42 hours and 27 minutes before she died when her heart was pierced as she underwent a hospital procedure.

Cóilín Ó Scolaí and Irene Kavanagh said they have been left "shattered and broken" following the death of baby Laoise who, along with her twin brother Cuán, was born premature at 28 weeks on January 22, 2015, at Dublin's Coombe Hospital.

Both babies were diagnosed as suffering from respiratory distress syndrome and Cuán was the first to undergo a chest drain procedure to remove air trapped in his chest cavity.

The same procedure, where a needle is inserted into the chest and air is released, was later performed on Laoise when an X-ray revealed she too was suffering from a tension pneumothorax.

However, during the procedure on January 24 Laoise's heart was pierced.

She was transferred to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, but was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

A post-mortem examination revealed her death was due to a rupture of the heart due to a penetrating injury by a catheter. A contributing factor was her prematurity.

An inquest into her death at Dublin Coroner's Court yesterday returned a verdict of medical misadventure with Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane recommending that guidelines for chest drain procedures, which had changed between 12-18 months before Laoise's death, be drawn to the attention of staff at the Coombe.

Speaking to reporters following the inquest, Mr Ó Scolaí said: "As a family, we have been left devastated and broken.

"We only had 42 hours and 27 minutes with her. We want to ensure this never happens to another family. Her siblings have lost us for the last two and a half years because we have been devastated by this."

Ms Kavanagh added: "She was a twin so we have her brother that we watch every day. We look at him and we wonder, what would she look like - every milestone he's taken, we can just never get away from it."

Her husband continued: "[Cuán] is thriving, he's so strong, so beautiful. She should be playing there beside him and she's not. We're empty."

He said they had never been told that the procedure "could have life or death consequences for Laoise".

Pathologist Prof John O'Leary, who performed the post-mortem examination, said he could not be definitive as to whether the injury to Laoise's heart was due to the needle being inserted too far, or whether it was due to the heart shifting back following the air being released from the chest cavity by the insertion of the drain.

He said he would not "minimise" the explanation given by medics that when the tension pneumothorax was relieved "the heart could have flipped back".

However, when asked by Richard Keane SC, for the family, if the injury could just as likely have been caused by the needle being inserted too far, he replied: "There are various possibilities."

Neonatal registrar Dr Muhammed Islam told the inquest the chest drain was a "high-risk procedure". He inserted the needle 2-3cm into the baby's chest in line with the guidelines he was aware of.

Mr Keane put it to Dr Islam that the correct depth, given Laoise's size, was 1.5cm.

There were no written protocols in relation to the method of drain insertion used at the hospital at that time, the inquest heard.

New guidelines have since been introduced in relation to the particular technique used for the insertion of the drain. Following the inquest, solicitor for the family, Daniel Hughes, said: "If one other child can be saved, it will give the family some solace after three years of grief."

Irish Independent

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