Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) has apologised after a mother died when she fell out of a bed while breastfeeding, her newborn son suffocated beneath her.
Marie Downey broke her neck in the fall three days after giving birth to her third child, Darragh.
The Downey family counsel, Dr John O'Mahony SC, told the High Court this was a profoundly tragic and heartbreaking case. He said that when Ms Downey was removed from the ground in her hospital room her baby was found suffocated. Darragh died the next day at just four days old after suffering an irreversible brain injury, said counsel.
The apology came as Ms Downey's husband, Kieran Downey (40), of Knockanevin, Kilmallock, Limerick, settled a High Court action over the deaths of his wife and son.
In a letter of apology read to the court, the hospital apologised unreservedly to Mr Downey, his sons James (8), Sean (5) and the extended family for the events that occurred while Marie and Darragh were under care of the hospital which resulted in their deaths in March 2019.
The letter added: “We cannot possibly comprehend the devastating impact these losses have had on you, James and Sean. On behalf of the staff of CUMH, especially those who were involved in the care of Marie and baby Darragh, we are truly sorry and wish to express our deepest sympathies and regret.”
Dr O’Mahony told the court the 35-year-old mother was known to have epilepsy.
Mr Downey had sued the HSE over the death of his wife and four-day-old baby. He also brought an action for nervous shock.
Darragh, the Downeys’ third child, was born on March 22nd, 2019, weighing 3.76kg in excellent condition. It was claimed the third stage of labour was complicated by postpartum haemorrhage, excessive bleeding, and Ms Downey lost half of her circulating blood volume.
There was an alleged failure to intervene in circumstances where intervention was clearly warranted and a failure to appreciate that the loss of that amount of blood would have been sufficient to cause the mother to feel exhausted, fatigued, and tired which were known to be the triggers for seizures for her.
Ms Downey it was claimed was allowed to stay unobserved in a single room when breastfeeding and no attention, it was claimed, was paid to safety measures such as the provision of cot sides.
Breach of duty
It was contended that the decision to place Ms Downey in a single room without supervision was ultimately a fatal decision, and there was a failure to recognise that breastfeeding would be a potentially dangerous time for any mother with a history of postnatal seizures.
There was also an alleged failure to pay heed to the fact that Ms Downey herself had warned of the dangers of her seizing while breastfeeding unsupervised and a failure to adequately monitor the mother while she was breastfeeding alone in a single room.
The HSE admitted negligence and breach of duty.
Mr Downey was rocked to his core by the death of his wife and son and his mind was violently agitated when he discovered what had happened, the court heard.
A postmortem on Ms Downey reported she died of a broken neck following a fall three days after giving birth and secondary to epilepsy. Darragh’s postmortem showed findings consistent with the baby being compressed beneath his mother on the floor, it was claimed.
Approving the settlement, Mr Justice Paul Coffey extended his deepest sympathy to Mr Downey and his family. He said nothing could prepare them for this extraordinary tragedy.