Baby died ‘gasping for breath’ over 13 hours after doctors withdrew care, court hears

Couple take action against HSE over death of newborn son in Mullingar hospital in 2016

An action taken by the parents of a newborn baby who died "gasping for breath" over a 13-hour period after doctors withdrew care has been opened before the High Court.

Tia Suhaila Habib (31) and Robert Coyne (39), of Derravaragh Abbey, Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, sued the Health Service Executive (HSE) for damages arising from alleged medical negligence and breach of duty regarding the circumstances surrounding the birth and death of their son Jack Coyne at Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar in September 2016.

The couple's counsel, Declan Doyle SC, instructed by Ciara McPhillips of Michael Boylan solicitors, said the baby died in his mother's arms after the "most harrowing 13 hours" where the infant was "gasping for breath" following the withdrawal of care.

He said the expert evidence makes clear the baby was born with a “very significant” loss of blood and that a blood transfusion should have taken place within a few minutes of his birth. Mr Doyle said his evidence will be that Jack would have survived if a blood transfusion had taken place promptly.


The HSE initially denied all of the claims, but it has recently accepted that a blood transfusion ought to have been administered to the baby following delivery. It denies that this would have had a “causative impact upon the outcome”. All other claims are denied.

Jack, the couple’s third child, was delivered by caesarean section on September 23rd, 2016.

‘Severe pains’

In their action the couple say Ms Habib was admitted to the hospital shortly after 10am on that date, having experienced increasingly severe abdominal pains since the early hours of the morning.

A fleeting deceleration of the baby’s heartbeat was allegedly detected after 11am, and it was later difficult to identify the heart rate. An emergency lower segment caesarean section was recommended and the baby was born at 12.59pm, weighing 2.68kg, it was allegedly noted.

He was observed to be pale, limp, with no heart rate and with the umbilical cord around his neck, according to the legal claim.

Various procedures were commenced, but despite a spontaneous heart rate noted at 10 minutes, the baby remained hypotonic, pale and with no respiratory effort, it was allegedly noted.

Doctors from the National Maternity Hospital later advised against transferring the baby there, as it was believed he would have suffered a cardiac arrest in the ambulance, it was claimed. Care was withdrawn and the baby survived until 5.15 am the following day, it was alleged.

‘Devastating’ effects

Counsel for the couple said the circumstances surrounding their infant’s death have given rise to nervous shock and shock-induced injuries. The effects have been “devastating” on Ms Habib and Mr Coyne, whose mental health have severely suffered, said Mr Doyle. Ms Habib has been “consumed” by the thought that the outcome for her son “could have and should have been different”, he added.

Mr Doyle said the plaintiffs are claiming damages for these injuries caused by nervous shock, as well as a claim for solatium under the Civil Liability Act.

The plaintiffs further claim the defendant failed to exercise proper or adequate care for the safety and wellbeing of them or their son. Also among the plaintiffs’ claims are allegations that there was a failure to take steps to secure a reliable and diagnostic CTG recording during certain times prior to the birth, to deliver Jack in a proper and timely manner, and to recognise a vessel rupture at delivery.

The case continues before Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty on Friday.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter