Cape Town - 120905 - Riyaad Williams (R) and Shiyaam Salie (L) speak about losing their unborn child, Nasir Williams, allegedly due to medication that Shiyaam received after her knee operation. Reporter: Sipokazi Fokazi Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Tonw - A Delft woman whose child was stillborn believes that the knee surgery she had towards the end of her pregnancy could have contributed to the death of her baby.

Shihaam Salie says doctors gave her conflicting advice on whether to have a knee operation.

Salie says that while she had been warned by medical staff at Delft community health centre (CHC) that it would be dangerous for her to have the operation 38 weeks into her pregnancy, Tygerberg Hospital had insisted that it was safe and would not pose any risk to her and her unborn baby.

But she claims that last month, two weeks after having had the surgery, she gave birth to a stillborn child - an incident she links to the use of anaesthesia during the operation and the subsequent use of the antibiotic, penicillin, to avoid infection in her knee.

The provincial Department of Health has disputed the claim that the surgery had put the life of the foetus in danger.

Department spokesman Mark van der Heever said that Salie’s surgery late in her pregnancy had posed no risk and was meant to be beneficial for her, after she had been diagnosed with septic arthritis in her right knee.

“This is a potentially dangerous condition because, if left untreated, it can cause generalised septicaemia and eventual death to mother and child. Delivering the baby while the mother had septic arthritis was not recommended because of the transmission risk during delivery,” he said.

When she initially went to the Delft CHC to report the infection, Salie said that: “Doctors there said the baby [would] have to be removed first as it [would] be unsafe to do surgery during pregnancy.

“But when I got to Tygerberg Hospital I was told that there [was] no need to take the baby out. I trusted them because I thought doctors know better,” said Salie.

“But I’m not so sure if having the operation was the right decision, because all my problems started after I had it and after taking the antibiotics that they prescribed,” she said.

Salie said when she subsequently went to Karl Bremer Hospital with labour pains she was told the baby was still alive and everything was fine, but after being rushed to theatre for an emergency Caesarean section the baby died.

“They told me that the baby had died due to lack of oxygen. I’m not a medical expert and I don’t really know what happened, but knowing that this could have been avoided just breaks my heart,” she said.

“If it’s completely safe to do surgery while pregnant, why do doctors have different opinions on the issue?” Salie asked.

Professor Wilhelm Steyn of the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said that while pregnant women were discouraged from either taking antibiotics or having surgery unrelated to the pregnancy, surgery was not a totally unsafe option.

Steyn added that while anaesthesia was known to have an effect on a foetal heart rate, it did not kill the foetus.

Penicillin, which was used in Salie’s case, was “widely used and totally safe during pregnancy”.

Van der Heever said the cause of the stillbirth in Salie’s case had been ascribed to a lack of oxygen supply to the baby because of “significantly raised blood pressure and a very small placenta”.

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Cape Argus