'Are you okay . . . I think we are losing her'
TIMELINE:This is the story of one woman’s death in an Irish hospital, based on the account given by her husband and friends
Savita Halappanavar was admitted to Galway University Hospital with back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant. Seven days later she was dead. The hospital has said it cannot comment on individual cases and in relation to Ms Halappanavar, it must await the outcome of official investigations.
It’s a Saturday night, and Savita Halappanavar (31) and her husband Praveen (34) are holding a small get-together at their home in the Roscam area of Galway. It’s both a farewell dinner for her parents who are returning to India soon and an opportunity to announce to friends they are expecting a baby. Savita is 17 weeks pregnant. “Savita was very excited, very happy,” recalls Praveen. “All our close friends came to congratulate us.”
Early on Sunday morning Savita beings to feel uncomfortable and has to use the bathroom repeatedly during the night. By 7.30am, she has severe back pain. Praveen calls St Monica’s ward, the maternity unit at Galway University Hospital, and is told to bring her in.
She is examined and told there is nothing to worry about, that the baby is fine and she should go home and rest, her husband says. “We came back and had breakfast. Savita went to the toilet. I was still not finished with my breakfast. She came out and she had tears in her eyes. She said she had felt something hard. She looked in shock. She said, ‘Look, there is something wrong. I’m not well. We need to go’.”
The couple return to St Monica’s. Again, says Praveen, following examination by a midwife, she is told everything is okay. Savita insists on a further opinion. A registrar in obstetrics is called and he carries out an internal examination, finding her to be fully dilated.
At 17 weeks’ gestation her foetus is unviable and the couple are told they will inevitably lose the baby. “We just had time for ourselves so we talked. She just kept asking ‘Why did it happen to me? Why me?’ Because she was just so happy. ‘Why did God do this to us?’
“Then the doctor came outside and told me it would all be over in a few hours. I was concerned. I asked him specifically what he meant by a few hours. He said ‘maybe four to five hours. It will all be over and then you can go home’,” says Praveen.
Savita is taken for a scan and the foetal heartbeat is present. “She started crying and said she couldn’t take it. Immediately the midwife nurse turned off the monitor. Basically the foetus was still alive – she could see the heartbeat of the foetus. She couldn’t take it. She said ‘please, I can’t take it’. She was broken basically. Her heart was broken.”
Savita returns with her husband to St Monica’s that evening and is admitted.
On Monday morning the consultant gynaecologist who has taken charge of Savita’s care comes to see the couple. She tells them as the foetal heartbeat remains present no intervention is possible, says Praveen. At this point Savita makes her first request for a termination, he says. She has accepted the pregnancy is lost and wants the ordeal to end. He says the consultant responds that it is not possible but when pressed says she will “go and check and come back”.