A Cape Town mother believes her newborn baby would be alive if she had not allegedly been turned away from the Elsies River Day Hospital. File picture: ANA
A Cape Town mother believes her newborn baby would be alive if she had not allegedly been turned away from the Elsies River Day Hospital. File picture: ANA

’My baby could still be alive if I received proper medical care from day hospital’

By Chevon Booysen Time of article published Mar 24, 2021

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Cape Town: An Elsies River mother believes her baby would be alive if she had not been allegedly turned away from the Elsies River Day Hospital.

After having waited in vain for an ambulance for more than an hour, traumatised Nerina Swartz, 37, gave birth at home on March 10 and was rushed to the day hospital in private transport with her newborn.

She said her premature baby girl lived for around two hours and suckled on her.

Detailing her ordeal to the Cape Times yesterday, Swartz said: “I am still very hurt by my child’s death and traumatised by the experience. I gave birth around 11.30am that morning after experiencing cramps which I didn't know were labour pains yet.

“My baby was born prematurely but she was alive when she was born. I was assisted by our neighbour’s daughter who drove me to the day hospital because nobody had the medical knowledge of how to cut the umbilical cord.

“The day hospital is the closest to us, but when we got there, after trying to get assistance at three entrances, a nurse came to the car, looked at me and my baby and said the baby needs oxygen and they do not have oxygen there, we must go to Tygerberg,” said Swartz.

She said no vital checks were done at the hospital and they were turned away in the private vehicle, “while ambulances were on the premises”.

“We drove to Tygerberg which was another 20-minute trip on a rainy day. When we got to Tygerberg Hospital, nurses immediately assisted us at the car by cutting the cord and taking my baby to ICU while I was taken to the trauma unit.

“About an hour later, the doctors told me there was nothing they could do for my baby and she did not make it. My baby could have been alive had I received proper medical care from the day hospital before being turned away. My other children are taking this hard because they saw their sister being born alive at home, only for me to not return with a baby,” said Swartz.

She said the family and neighbours who assisted her have also been left traumatised by the ordeal.

Provincial Health spokesperson Shimoney Regter said several factors influenced the decision made by the midwife obstetric unit nurse who had seen Swartz on her arrival at the day hospital.

“On assessment, the nurse found the baby to be well-perfused and oxygenated, however, the baby was clinically premature (the baby was very small). The nurse told the driver of the vehicle, while the car was idling, to take the baby straight to Tygerberg Hospital because the baby would need to be seen at a higher level of care as required for a baby this premature, which was the biggest deciding factor.

“Another deciding factor was that skin to skin had already been established in the premature baby. This is a crucial factor in the management of a premature baby. If the baby was moved from its mother, other sequelae could have resulted in a rapid decrease in core body temperature. Premature babies need higher levels of care and, management afterwards, would have better outcomes at a higher-level hospital,” said Regter.

More information would be available from Tygerberg Hospital during its investigation of the incident, said Regter.

The matter has since been reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) by the commission's monitor, Imraahn Mukaddam.

He said they had three concerns relating to the incident which they wanted to be investigated.

“The medical staff at the hospital had expressed their concerns as to why the mom was not assisted at the Elsies River Day Hospital. The one big anomaly in this matter is the fact that despite the baby having been born prematurely, it was alive for more than two hours after its birth. It was able to breathe. It cried and was able to drink from its mother, but the death certificate states that the baby was stillborn.

“We, therefore, have three incidents of possible misconduct on the part of medical staff. The first the very long wait for an ambulance that did not arrive. The failure of the maternity ward staff at Elsies River Day Hospital to assist the mother and her baby. Lastly, the inaccurate information on the death certificate,” said Mukaddam.

SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said they would be assisting the family.

“We will definitely follow up on this matter and arrange a meeting with the hospital to ascertain why they did not assist the mother,” said Nissen.

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