Praveen Halappanavar steps forward to tell his wife’s story

‘We were a young couple and we had our dreams. We were so happy and all of a sudden this happened’

The coroner, Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin, arriving at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

The coroner, Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin, arriving at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Tue, Apr 9, 2013, 06:01

Five months after the story of his wife Savita’s death made world headlines, Praveen Halappanavar finally got the chance to tell his story to a public inquiry.

On yesterday’s telling it is a tale that very closely resembles the account he first gave to The Irish Times last November, barely a month after the tragedy of Savita’s death in a Galway hospital.

That event triggered a massive debate in Ireland and beyond about abortion, but there was no sign of that fevered controversy yesterday in the reserved confines of Court Three of Galway’s courthouse building.

The anticipated media swarm failed to materialise as a gaggle of Irish journalists was joined in the press benches by just the odd representative from overseas.

Opposite them a dozen or so staff members at Galway University Hospital waited for their turn to give evidence while Mr Halappanavar spent most of the day in the box.

Dressed in an open-necked pinstripe shirt and slacks, he read most of his 18-page statement standing up.

A compact man not given to extremes of emotion, he nevertheless had to resort to a handkerchief on several occasions to suppress his grief as he read how his wife went from happy mother-to-be to deceased within a week.

“We were a young couple and we had our dreams. We were so happy and all of a sudden this happened,” he told the inquest.

Somehow an outgoing, healthy 31-year-old who practised yoga and never had reason to visit the doctor had ended up losing her baby at 17 weeks and days later lost her own life to septicaemia.

The point of the inquest, as Galway coroner Ciaran McLoughlin explained at the outset, is to establish the facts that led to her death.

This is a narrowly-prescribed exercise which cannot result in findings of criminal or civil liability, but it can bring some sort of closure as well as helping to ensure the likes of Savita’s death doesn’t occur again.

The HSE-led inquiry into her death, which has yet to be published, is expected to point the finger clearly in relation to her death, and civil proceedings are inevitable at some point in the future.

Yesterday, though, those present heard a story that anyone could identify with.

Praveen spoke of the couple’s happy early years of marriage, their trips in Ireland and abroad, Savita’s vivacious character and her passion for dance, their “tears of happiness” on seeing the baby she was due at an early scan.

Although the events in the hospital from the time she was admitted last October 21st to her death a week later are well known, they lost nothing in their retelling by a devoted husband.

Elderly parents
There was tremendous pathos in the way the couple contrived to hide the impending miscarriage from her elderly parents, who were visiting from India at the time but were about to return home.

The parents planned to leave some clothes in Ireland for a return visit but Savita decided to stick to that plan because “if she had told them to take any of their clothes back they would have suspected something”, her husband recalled.

For the first time the obstetrician treating Ms Halappanavar, Dr Katherine Astbury, was named, but she was not present yesterday to hear Praveen repeat his claim that she told the couple their request for a termination could not be acted upon because Ireland was a Catholic country and it was against the law.

Dr Astbury’s moment in the spotlight will come today or tomorrow but it is clear already she will have a different story to tell.

Yesterday, though, it was all about one quiet, loving couple who were sundered despite being in the care of one of Ireland’s best-equipped hospitals.