Monday 19 March 2018

Exclusive: 'I blamed myself' - mother lost baby daughter at birth after doctors failed to realise she was carrying twins

The Halls lost their baby daughter Alyssa in 2001 when doctors at Portlaoise hospital failed to realise mum Valerie was carrying twins, leading to significant failings in her care. For the first time they tell their story to and say they still feel like they do not have the full picture about what happened to their little girl.

David and Valarie Hall at their home in Tullamore, Co Offaly
David and Valarie Hall at their home in Tullamore, Co Offaly
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

A HEARTBROKEN couple who lost one of their twins at birth have waited 16 years for an apology from the HSE but say they still have unanswered questions.

In 2001 Valerie Hall was pregnant with twins and was under the care of Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise.

Throughout her pregnancy doctors never diagnosed her as being pregnant with twins despite a history of twin births in her family.

Sadly only their son, Elliot survived the birth. The couple's daughter, Alyssa, whom they didn't even realise they were expecting, did not survive.

Valerie was scanned three times during he pregnancy by two staff members.

On February 26 after giving birth naturally to her son Elliot, Valerie was given an injection to bring on the afterbirth.

“She had been in labour for most of the day, she went through natural delivery for the first child,” David told

The focus of the staff appeared to be mainly on a young girl who was in labour next to Valerie the couple said.

“As soon as the baby was born the nurse came in and gave Valerie an injection to bring on the afterbirth and said she’d be back.

"She was only out the door when Valerie said to me that she needed to push so I went to get the nurse who told her that it was only her heartbeat. With that a pair of feet pushed out through her stomach.

“To which Valerie said ‘unless my heartbeat has feet there is another baby in there’,” he said.

The couple recall being left unattended for 45 minutes, with Valerie attached to a foetal heart monitor.

“She was then brought down for an emergency cesarean because at this stage the womb had collapsed around the child,” David said.

“In my memory of it the swinging doors of the theater were still swinging when the nurse came out and said ‘I’m sorry she didn’t make it’, to which I said ‘my wife is dead?’.

“She said ‘no your daughter died, she didn’t make it’. Up to 45 minutes before that I didn’t even know I was having twins, never mind a daughter,” he said.

Even after having the injection to deliver the placenta it was not too late for their daughter Alyssa who weighed more than six pounds at the time of her birth.

“They could have given me another injection to counteract the first and done a section on me straight away and she would be alive,” Valerie said.

Valerie doesn’t remember anything until the following morning when she asked a nurse what had happened.

When David returned to the hospital to be with his wife he was able to bring her to see her daughter.

“By the time Valerie got to see her the blood had congealed and the baby was almost black,” David said.

“That’s my memory of her,” Valerie said.

The Halls say they lived for years believing that the death of their baby was “just one of those things” and Valerie said she blamed herself for the tragic loss.

“Nobody would tell us anything or answer any questions. Our marriage was shot to bits because of it.

“I had always blamed myself for her dying, thinking that if I had done something different she would still be alive,” she said.

It was only after hearing a radio discussion about failings at Portlaoise that they began to question the hospital’s explanation of the events leading to her death and requested Valerie’s file.

A number of babies died at the hospital sparking a series of damning reviews into the maternity services at the hospital.

After meeting with advocacy group Patient Focus an investigation and legal proceedings began which took more than two years. The couple were represented by solicitors Callan Tansey.

When they secured Valerie's files under FOI for her 2001 pregnancy and her first child, who was born in 2000, the couple were able to compare both files which showed “significant differences”.

To date none of Valerie’s three prenatal scans have been located - including one taken when she went into the hospital on the day of the birth.

The Halls dispute a number of facts that are recorded in her file including timings of events, notes from a doctor they say did not treat her on the night and missing documents.

In April 2017, two months after Elliot celebrated his 16th birthday, the couple settled a liability action against the HSE out of court and received a written apology.

The apology reads:

“The hospital is aware of your experience in relation to the death of your beloved daughter Alyssa. We wish to express our sincere apology for the failings which caused her death. The hospital accepts responsibility for these failings which should not have occurred. The hospital sincerely regrets the tragic consequences its failings have caused you and your family.”

But the Halls still feel they don’t really know what happened to their baby girl.

“I’m 51 now and if I live to be a hundred there is not a doctor in this country who could tell me that she was stillborn because she was still kicking me when they were giving me the anesthetic,” Valerie said.

The Halls also say the apology from the hospital and the HSE was not sufficient because they have never received an apology from those who were involved directly in the care of Valerie and her children. Many of those who treated her have since retired and cannot be pursued via a medical council inquiry.

“They don’t seem to have to answer to anything,” David said.

In a statement to the Dublin Midland Hospital Group said the family's complaints were considered as part of the review carried out in the hospital.

"The Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise (MRHP) and HSE has acknowledged the failings of care received by the family in this case and offered its sincerest apologies for these failings.

"The Health Service is implementing system wide changes to enhance services across all maternity hospitals," the sopkeswoman added, referring to a number of improvements being implemented at the hospital.

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