A grieving mother has learned a catalogue of hospital failures led to the death of her new born baby boy, before she’d had a chance to hold him – and without her knowing he was fighting for his life.
Sarah Wallace, aged 29 and from Scarborough, believes her son Harry would have survived if he had been born during the day when a consultant was on duty. Sarah, who has Harry’s name and date of birth tattooed on her arms, also says she was told staff shortages meant she wasn’t given the opportunity to hold her baby whilst he was still alive.
Sarah, mum to three other young children, said: “It’s just heart breaking that the reason I didn’t get to see Harry before he died was because lack of funding meant there was no one available to take me to the special care baby unit. It’s scandalous and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to any other mums.
“I didn’t have the chance to will Harry to live. I couldn’t hug him while he was warm. I didn’t get to see his little toes wriggling. They even forgot to take a photo of him while he was alive. All I have is a lock of his hair and his hand and foot prints.”
An independent expert report, commissioned by Sarah’s lawyers Hudgell Solicitors into baby Harry’s death, lists a series of errors by staff at Scarborough District General Hospital.
These include failure to follow the proper respiratory support procedures; failure to transfer him urgently to a specialist unit in Leeds; failure to ventilate Harry and to help him breathe by properly putting a tube in his windpipe as his condition deteriorated.
Sarah and husband Scott, aged 32, a mechanic who restores classic cars, had been delighted to learn she was expecting a little boy. But she then endured a traumatic pregnancy. A low-lying placenta, a complication known as Placenta Previa, caused her to haemorrhage 14 times.
Sarah gave birth to Harry eight weeks early by emergency caesarean section at Scarborough District General Hospital at 10pm on September 10, 2009. Harry, who weighed 3lbs 11oz, was taken immediately to the Special Care Baby Unit.
Sarah said: “The midwife brought Harry for me and Scott to kiss him before he was whisked off. But I don’t remember much about this as I was part way through my operation.”
Scott spent a couple of hours with his son before his wife urged him to go home and get some rest. Neither he nor Sarah realised Harry was in difficulty. Throughout the night, Sarah asked to see her son but was told that because of staff shortages no-one was available to take her from her bed to baby Harry.
Sarah said: “I was kept in the dark. I didn’t know Harry was fighting for his life. I’d have crawled to him on my hands and knees if I’d known. To this day, Scott and I feel like we weren’t there when he needed us.”
It was the next morning at 7am that Scott appeared red-eyed at Sarah’s bedside and told her that Harry had died at 6.42am from breathing difficulties.
Sarah, who has an 11 year old son and two younger daughters, says her family’s tragedy at losing baby Harry was made worse by the difficulty in getting straight answers to her questions from hospital authorities. It was the week after Harry’s death that a consultant told her that the reason she wasn’t take to see Harry was that there were not enough available staff due to the hospital’s debts.
Sarah then sought legal advice from medical negligence expert Chris Moore at Hudgell Solicitors.
Chris Moore said: “The evidence clearly shows that there is a strong balance of probabilities that if Harry had been given the appropriate treatment he would have survived.
“This was a preventable tragedy compounded by the lack of communication with the parents. Mrs Wallace is traumatized by the fact she never got to hold her baby and never got to bond with him.”
Hudgell Solicitors commissioned an independent report from an appropriate expert and then submitted a letter detailing Mrs Wallace’s claim for compensation for medical negligence against Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust. The claim has now been settled.
Sarah has suffered depression and anxiety following Harry’s death. She tried to return to her job as a senior nursing assistant at a care home but became too distressed.
Sarah said: “I am hoping that by speaking out I’ll create awareness of placenta previa. I wasn’t fully told what the implications could be for me or my baby. I got conflicting advice from the different doctors and midwives. If I can just stop one other mum going through what I’ve suffered it’ll be worth it.
“I’d also tell people not to let hospital authorities fob them off and, if things do go wrong, to get some decent legal advice. Although I’m not sure if we’ll ever come to terms with Harry’s death, at least I know now what happened to my son. You can’t fight these battles by yourself.”