People ask, 'how can this happen in the 21st century?'


BACKGROUND: Savita Halappanavar’s husband Praveen has been trying to explain to their families back in India how his 31-year-old pregnant wife died

Praveen Halappanavar, husband of Savita, has spoken of how Ireland’s reputation as a “good place to have a baby” was among the factors in their decision to start a family here.

Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday from Belgaum in southwest India, where his wife was from, he said most of their friends in Galway had had babies here. The couple moved to Galway in 2008.

“All our friends, you know, had great stories to tell about the babies they had in Ireland. So we decided we’d go there. We had heard Ireland was a good place to have a baby. Most of our friends there had babies there and they’re all fine, and so we decided: have a baby in Ireland.”

He said he and Savita held a gathering at home in the Roscam area of Galway, on Saturday October 20th – the night before she presented at Galway University Hospital with severe back pain – to announce they were expecting a baby.

“Savita was very excited, very happy . . . All our close friends came to congratulate us. We had a dinner at home, and it was early morning on Sunday she had the severe back pains.”

Requests to terminate

That Sunday morning she presented at Galway University Hospital and was told she was losing the pregnancy.

Despite her making a number of requests for the pregnancy to be terminated – given the distress she was in and the fact the baby could not be saved – this was repeatedly refused because the foetal heartbeat was still present, her husband said.

The heartbeat stopped on Wednesday, October 24th, the womb contents were removed and Savita was taken to the high-dependency unit before being moved to ICU, where she died on Sunday, October 28th. She had contracted E.coli and septicaemia, a pathologist found.

She was cremated in India on November 3rd.

Explaining to family in India what had happened had been very difficult, her husband said.

“[Savita] has a lot of doctors in her family, a lot of medical people – her uncle, her aunt, many people who are in medicine – and they are all asking, ‘How can this happen in the 21st century, when the medical field is so advanced?’ and ’Why didn’t they abort her?’

“So I had to explain the whole thing, about the law there and how the foetus is live . . . and they were all just, some people even laughed at me. ‘That’s crazy’, they said. And I just had to tell them, that’s the way it is, that unfortunately that’s the country we were in at the time.

“People keep asking me, ‘How could they leave the womb open for two days? There is a high risk of infection there.’

“A common thing I’m asked: ‘The mother’s life is a bigger life. They knew that they couldn’t save the baby. Why didn’t they look at the bigger life?’ ”

Asked whether, if there had been a termination he thought things could have been different, he said: “Yes of course. She was perfectly all right the day she went in, until Wednesday. I think, and it’s just my take, I think on the Tuesday night things got worse, when she picked up that fever, when she started shivering, I think the infection was already taking hold and taking over her entire body. It was too late then.”

Full of life

Her parents were still in shock, he continued.

“Her dad is in very bad shape. They are giving him medication to make sure that he gets some sleep. No one, including me, we can’t believe she’s not with us. She was such a lovely person, full of life. It’s been just so very hard for them, their only daughter.”

They had been in Galway with the couple for two months before returning to India just before these events unfolded.

“At Airport, when I went to drop them, you know, they said, ‘We are so lucky to have her, such a wonderful daughter.’”