Tuesday 16 January 2018

'We have always wanted a family...that opportunity was taken from us' - childless couple say lives ruined by botched delivery

Catherina and Stephen McGarry
Catherina and Stephen McGarry
Jennifer Anna McGarry
Jennifer Anna McGarry with parents Stephen and Catherina. Picture Courtesy of Family
Jennifer Anna McGarry and mum Catherina. Picture courtesy of family
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

Jennifer Anna McGarry was nearly 10 pounds when she was born. She had 10 fingers, 10 toes, a mop of black hair and a shattered spine.

Dressed in her pink outfit the tiny tot battled for two and a half months to stay alive but the damage done to her body when a doctor used a forceps to rip her from her mother was irreversible.

Jennifer Anna should be 24 today. In quiet moments her mum Catherina daydreams about the type of woman her daughter would have become.

Would she have shared her parents' passion for motorbikes? What type of job would she be working at? And would she have children of her own by now?

Catherina recalled: "My husband Stephen and I met through the biking. He was was already planning to buy Jennifer Anna a motorbike."

Catherina knows this fantasising is a futile exercise but it is one of the only things that keeps them going. The other is the quest for truth about what happened in the Coombe Hospital between November 28, 1991 and February 14, 1992.

It is a journey that saw them, with little outside help, unearth a litany of horrors about their treatment culminating with the completion of a private HSE report last year and an inquest this Monday.


The document starts with an apology to the parents admitting that medical negligence caused their child's death; that Jennifer Anna's organs were taken without the parents' knowledge or consent; and that an inquest should have taken place at the time.

It was a hollow victory for the couple.

The Coombe admits medical negligence most likely caused the death but the statute of limitations for civil action has long passed while two health ministers and the Taoiseach have flatly refused to meet the couple to discuss the case.

Sitting in their modest home in Sallynoggin, South Dublin, Catherina recalls that she was 26 - just two years older than Jennifer Anna would have been this weekend - when she went into labour after a "perfect pregnancy".

There were delays in the later stage of labour and staff began to make preparations for a Caesarean Section.

But instead, in a moment that would change the rest of their lives, a doctor moved the expectant mum into another room.

A nurse held her down, a second held the top of the bed in place while the doctor, with his left foot against the foot of the bed, used a forceps to grab onto Jennifer Anna's fragile head.

Putting the weight of his body into the device the doctor ripped the infant from her mother in three strokes.

Catherina says: “The internal sensation was like knives scratching down both sides of my abdomen.”

The baby was not breathing and had to be resuscitated immediately.

She was kept alive for two and a half months but the infant's future was taken in those moments.

Seven Miscarriages

After Jennifer Anna's death the couple tried many more times to have a baby but they suffered seven miscarriages.

When they finally realised that it wasn't going to happen naturally the family began the process of adoption. But again they were dealt a devastating blow when they were told that they were too old.

It's been difficult for the couple and everyone around them. Machine operator Stephen explained that friends are often hesitant to bring children around to their house - afraid of upsetting the McGarrys.

"Some of them think that children will remind us of what we don't have. I can understand that."

He added: "We wanted a family. We have always wanted a family. That opportunity was taken from us."

The opportunity to bury their full baby was also stolen.

Over 20 years after Jennifer Anna's death the couple travelled to meet with a pathologist in Cork University Hospital on a fact-finding mission.

What they discovered left them dumbstruck.

Their beautiful baby's spine and brain were removed from her body and disposed of without their permission or knowledge. 

Catherina explained: “It felt like Jennifer had died again, we were so numb.

"We buried a shell, we never even got to bury our baby girl's full body and nobody bothered to tell us.”

To this date the parents don't know why the organs were removed or what happened to them.

The report says that documents about the removal have disappeared from The Coombe with no further explanation.

Stephen and Catherina have dedicated thousands of hours to their campaign for justice over the last 23 years but they feel like they have only unearthed a portion of the truth.

Despite ongoing health issues loving couple have vowed to continue the fight together

Stephen said: "We are doing this for Jennifer Anna. She deserves to get justice for what happened to her."

Catherina added: “The bad memories of the Coombe Hospital will never go away from me, I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.”

"I hope to god that no woman will have to go through what we had to go through in childbirth and to watch her child suffer and her husband's face every day, not knowing what to say."

Online Editors

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