herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

Doctors missed baby's cancer again and again

THIS tragic baby boy died from leukaemia after repeatedly being sent home by doctors with a diagnosis of colic.

Adam O’Connor was only 14 weeks old when he lost his battle for life.

For six weeks prior to his death, his frantic mother was repeatedly told to take her only child home from hospital by doctors who said the baby had colic and constipation.

Today his heartbroken mum Julia said the family was treated like “just another number”.

One doctor wrote in medical notes, later seen by the O’Connors, that: “Mum would want to relax, Mum would want to calm down – Mum would want to go home and enjoy (her) baby more.”

Adam was Julia and Tom O’Connor’s first and only child. The Cork couple had been trying to have a baby for some time. Since Adam’s death in February 2009 they have not had another child.

A major investigation into Adam’s death by the HSE has admitted a catalogue of errors.

Key signs were missed, the services were "fragmented" and communication between them "unstructured."



Adam was born a healthy 9lb 6oz baby on November 10, 2008 but within weeks his parents became very concerned that he was in pain because of constant piercing shrieks.

Repeated visits to GPs failed to resolve the problem. The baby was screaming so much on Christmas Day that Tom and Julia had to eat their Christmas dinners separately -- taking turns to walk around their home cradling a screaming Adam in their arms. Feeding him became an ordeal.

Yet despite the couple's belief that something was wrong, they were repeatedly told that it was just colic or constipation. They visited several north Cork GPs and rang out-of-hour nurse lines and medical support services.

A trip to Cork University Hospital (CUH) -- the major acute hospital in the south -- on January 4, 2009 again saw the couple being advised that the problem was constipation. Julia felt that, because they were first-time parents, medical staff seemed to believe the couple were over-reacting.

However, Adam's condition continued to worsen. By February 14 -- St Valentine's Day -- Julia was virtually exhausted from minding Adam.

Her husband poignantly decided to organise a baby-sitter so that he could take his wife for a romantic meal and he also organised that she could go shopping with friends while he looked after Adam. However, Adam's condition was so bad that the couple abandoned their plans and instead rushed the baby to CUH for a second time.

They finally saw a junior doctor who prescribed suppositories and lactose to deal with Adam's constipation.

"We were then sent home with a lifeless baby in our arms," Julia sobbed to the Herald.

Within 24 hours, the baby was in such distress that the couple -- in utter desperation -- went to Mallow General Hospital (MGH) with Adam. A doctor realised that the baby was very sick and advised the couple be transferred to CUH by ambulance and to demand to see a paediatric doctor. Blood tests at CUH revealed Adam had acute leukaemia -- and was haemorrhaging into his brain.

His condition was so serious that he could not be transferred to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin -- and Adam also began to suffer mini-strokes the following day (February 16.)

Adam died on February 17 -- just two days after he had been admitted. His parents were at his bedside.

A HSE report into baby Adam's death has found:



  • one hospital doctor who examined the baby had no emergency department or paediatric experience.



  • baby Adam was discharged without the registrar on duty carrying out a full clinical assessment.



  • three days before his death he had an abnormal heart rate that was not further assessed.



  • even when he was rushed to CUH by ambulance there was a delay in him being seen by the team.

The HSE has also apologised separately to the O'Connor family for "the upset experienced in the course of their dealings with Cork University Hospital".

There is no apology in the 27-page HSE report.

Julia says that she hopes that no other parent will have to endure their nightmare.

"The system failed our son from the moment he was born -- at every turn he was failed. The service provided for Adam was truly appalling -- and our comments are about Cork hospitals and not Mallow General Hospital where the first signal that something was wrong was picked up," Julia adds.

hnews@herald.ie



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