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Sunday 21 January 2018

'We lost two baby girls in two years at Portiuncula'

Galway hospital extends review as five more families come forward

Warren and Lorraine Reilly
Warren and Lorraine Reilly
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

A review of maternity services in Portiuncula Hospital in Galway is set to be expanded after five more families came forward to say their children had died or been starved of oxygen following delivery there.

Last week the hospital group in charge of Portiuncula, the Saolta Group, announced a review into maternity services in the hospital following the deaths of two babies and oxygen deprivation for five more.

The review covers the nine-month period from February to November of last year.

However, the Sunday Independent has learned that at least five other families, whose children either died or where left without oxygen, have now also come forward - bringing the number of families affected to 11.

One of these, the Reilly family from Loughrea, Co Galway, lost two baby girls at the hospital within a two-year period.

They are now demanding the review into services there be expanded to include their case and those of other families like them.

Warren and Lorraine Reilly lost babies Asha and Amber in the hospital in 2008 and 2010. Asha was stillborn while baby Amber, who was rushed to Holles St Hospital in Dublin, survived for a week before passing away in her parents' arms.

At the inquest into her death in 2012, the coroner called for a review of maternity services at the hospital.

However, the couple were left "reeling" to discover that no changes were introduced following the deaths of their two daughters.

"When I heard about the review, I initially thought they were talking about our case, but then they said the dates and I knew it couldn't be. I was driving to work at the time and I nearly crashed the car.

"The circumstances were all so similar, it just led me to see things haven't changed since our case," Warren told the Sunday Independent.

He is now seeking answers as to whether the requested review was ever carried out.

"We were never contacted about the review and we've no idea if it ever happened. But even if it did what use would it be without talking to Lorraine or myself," he added.

A spokesperson for the hospital would not comment on the review, saying it related to an "individual patient".

Warren and Lorraine lost their first daughter Asha in March 2008. They and their older daughter Angel had been looking forward to the birth of baby Asha, when Lorraine, who was 30 weeks pregnant, began to feel discomfort.

She attended hospital where a foetal heart monitor was used. While she was told all was ok, Lorraine was kept in overnight. When she started to bleed that night she went to the nurses' station and was told to return to her bed where a midwife would review her. However, after no one arrived she returned to the nurses' station, bleeding more heavily.

Warren recalls how he received a call telling him Lorraine had suffered placental abruption and the baby was being delivered by emergency C-section.

"Shortly after I was handed my beautiful daughter Asha who had passed away. That night I sang her the songs I had sung for our older daughter, then two years old, and told her about her family," he said.

In 2010, the couple were overjoyed to be expecting another baby. They had received reassurances from Portiuncula Hospital staff that their care would receive extra focus given their previous circumstances.

In February 2010 Lorraine returned to the hospital to deliver baby Amber.

"We were nervous, but we were sure we'd have a happy outcome this time," Warren recalled.

But as the labour progressed the couple became more and more concerned. Baby Amber's inquest later heard how a midwife had phoned a consultant because she was not happy with the treatment Lorraine was receiving.

The inquest heard that the couple later learned the registrar had administered a medication that delays contractions, a decision the midwife was not happy with.

The midwife called the consultant obstetrician, who requested Lorraine be brought to theatre for an emergency C-section.

But when he arrived at the hospital the young woman was still in the delivery ward.

While the registrar later defended use of the drug, a consultant obstetrician told the inquest he would not have done so in the circumstances.

Baby Amber Reilly was eventually delivered by emergency Caesarean section. The umbilical cord was around the baby girl's neck and she had suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen.

Amber was rushed to the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street where she underwent cooling treatment in an effort to reduce brain damage.

Tragically, a brain scan a week later offered no hope and Amber was taken off life support.

She died on February 15, 2010.

Warren said: "We were told she would live half-an-hour to an hour but she stayed with us from 3pm to midnight. We held her in our arms and sang her the same songs and stories we had to Asha. Angel was four at the time and she got to spend time with her days earlier and read her a story. It was so very, very tough, beyond comprehension."

Despite their double tragedy all that mattered to the couple was that changes would be made to ensure other families did not suffer the same outcomes.

"The coroner wrote to the hospital and recommended a full review of practices in the maternity department of the hospital. We felt sure this would make a difference. After all these people, medical professionals, were not setting out to do harm.

"So you can imagine my frustration and heartbroken response when I heard our story told again on the radio. Only to realise this was a different two babies who had died in the same hospital, and five others sent to be treated in Dublin having been starved of oxygen," he said.

Since then Warren and Lorraine have been contacted by four other families whose children were born in similar conditions. None of these cases have to date been included in the review as they occurred before last year.

"We just want something to come from all this. We want a full review of all the cases and we want a second review in 12 months' time to make sure this isn't still happening. We thought they would learn from our loss but they didn't," Warren added.

A spokesperson for the Saolta group said it could not discuss individual cases. However, it confirmed it was aware that other families had come forward with concerns and these would be considered when drafting the terms of reference for the review.

"The Saolta group and Portiuncula Hospital are aware of the issues Mr Reilly has raised. The draft terms of reference are currently being finalised. The issues raised by Mr Reilly will be taken into consideration," the spokesman told the Sunday Independent.

"We are aware of other families coming forward and this will be taken into consideration as we discuss the draft terms of reference."

Sunday Independent

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