Wednesday 17 January 2018

'My son would still be alive if hospital acted sooner' - Mum

Pathologist Dr John Gillen
Pathologist Dr John Gillen

A devastated mum has said her son would be "alive and well" today if the hospital she was treated in had acted more quickly.

Siobhan Whelan's son Conor died in Cavan General Hospital just 17-and-a-half hours after he was born by emergency caesarean.

When she presented to the hospital after calling ahead to say she was in labour she discovered she was bleeding and cried out for help.

"An earlier elective caesarean section, even earlier that day, we firmly believe Conor would be alive and well here with us today," she said yesterday.

Ms Whelan had been suffering from an undiagnosed condition, known as vasa previa. The condition causes foetal blood vessels to block the birth canal. It is rare but the inquest heard survival rates are greatly increased if it is detected during pregnancy.

The inquest into Conor's death on May 14, 2014, returned a verdict of death by medical misadventure, after three days of evidence in Cavan Court.

Ms Whelan and her husband Andrew were visibly emotional after the verdict. Ms Whelan had told the inquest it had been a "battle" to get to the inquest stage.

"We are Conor's voice and it has taken two-and-a-half years to get answers to our many questions. It will not bring Conor back, unfortunately. However, his life mattered and his legacy in his short time with us will go on to hopefully prevent future unnecessary deaths," she said.

Ms Whelan also hit out at maternity care standards and the "lack of equality of care" for women as a "big issue".

"Unfortunately, the lack of detailed scanning in a lot of our maternity units, not just in Cavan, and a lack of equality of care for all pregnant mothers is a big issue that needs to be turned around.

"Every pregnant mother is entitled to a decent scan, to leave the ante-natal clinic knowing for sure that everything is as it should be and to have it afforded to every mother in Ireland not just by postcode lottery," she said.

During her pregnancy in March 2014, a concern had been raised about a low-lying placenta but a scan did not confirm this.

Ms Whelan said she raised the issue several times throughout her pregnancy, but it was never addressed with the internal check-up she said she had been promised.

The placental abnormality could have been an indicator for her condition.

Her waters were manually broken by a process known as an artificial rupture of the membrane. The consultant who carried out the procedure said that had vasa previa been diagnosed, she would not have carried it out.

The court heard that it was not thought of on the day that the blood loss could have been from the baby, but it later emerged it was.

Dr John Gillan, the pathologist who carried out the post-mortem on Conor, said the cause of death was organ failure brought on by blood loss. Pressure on the vasa previa caused a rupture that led to the baby losing blood.


Last night, Ms Whelan encouraged women who had concerns to insist on being tested.

"Until the recommendations are fully implemented I would just encourage every mother out there to stand up for themselves and insist on being screened.

"I would ask all the medical people to consider vasa previa with any of the risk factors, a mother turning up with unexplained bleeding to consider vasa previa ... it wasn't thought of on the day," she said.

The Whelan family also received an apology from the management of Cavan Hospital.

Recommendations were also made by the jury, including the need for every pregnant woman to be scanned at 20 weeks.

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