'Cold sore virus killed our baby...most nurses didn't know that could happen'
A heartbroken couple who lost their baby to a cold sore infection are now trying to raise awareness of the issue before another child dies.
John and Louise Wills from Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, don't want anyone else to go through the agony they experienced after their only daughter Eibhlin passed away in hospital on December 1, just 12 days after her birth last November.
Devastated dad John described the young couple's heartbreak following their little girl's death.
"I got an immediate panic attack. I could barely take in what the doctor was saying about what had happened," he told the Herald.
"When she was handed to us, wrapped up, dead and getting colder and we were cuddling and holding her, a weird survival mechanism kicked in. I actually drove home that night and I don't know how."
Eibhlin was buried on Thursday, and the following Monday, John and Louise got a call from the hospital to say that the results of the post-mortem had come in.
"First of all, they said this was a silent killer. There was nothing you could have seen because she didn't break out in a rash ... but basically what happened was, she said, it's herpes.
"She died of herpes. And it knocked us down with a feather. We don't suffer from cold sores anyway, but we were thinking 'how on earth did she contract herpes?," he added.
Louise got a blood test and found out that she was not a carrier of the virus - meaning that she didn't pass it on. Their daughter contracted the cold sore infection after birth.
John and Louise had Eibhlin's heel prick test examined in an independent lab. The results showed that Eibhlin had the infection before she left hospital.
"She contracted it somehow in the hospital from somebody. We will never know who or how that happened, but it was an accident," John said.
"A slip occurred in the hospital in Holles Street, probably due to a slip in hygiene, and unfortunately it transferred to her."
John and Louise brought Eibhlin home five days after her birth by caesarean section.
"We learned her little personality, her little quirks," John said. "She was sleeping well, feeding well. The weekend came along and it was on Sunday that we saw the first signs of her being a bit out of sorts.
On Monday their lives were turned upside down.
"Monday started out fine, she was sleeping fine. This time she was a little down on her feeds, not eating as much. She was also a bit more clingy. If you put her down she didn't want to be down, she wanted to be in your arms."
At 11.30pm that night, Eibhlin became suddenly ill.
"She went from a healthy colour to a very listless and pale colour. We headed straight out to Tallaght Hospital. When we got there, the crash team was called, they worked on her. She was alive in there but just barely. And then she passed," he added.
John and Louise have now launched a campaign to spread awareness about the dangers of the cold sore virus for babies through their new website www.rememberingeibhlin.org.
"There's a huge core lack of awareness, but also a lack of awareness among our medical profession as a whole, and that's not being critical," John said.
"We have met many nurses and midwives on our journey since Eibhlin has passed, and when they hear the story, you could count on one hand the number of those midwives who knew that herpes could kill a baby. Most don't."
Dr Karina Butler told the Sean O'Rourke show on RTE Radio One that the case is rare, but it is a concern.
"We have to emphasise how rare it is, but we have to prevent it happening to another child," she said.
Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital where Eibhlin was born, offered the staff's sympathies to John and Louise.
"All of us at the National Maternity Hospital are very sad for Louise and John on the loss of Eibhlin," she said in a statement last night.
"We greatly admire their work in highlighting their own personal tragedy to increase awareness of the risk of HSV in the period immediately before and after birth. We look forward to supporting this brave family in their work," she added.