Picture: Ayanda Ndamane African news Agency (ANA)
Picture: Ayanda Ndamane African news Agency (ANA)

Department of Health sued as C-section delay causes brain damage to baby

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Feb 25, 2021

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Pretoria - What was supposed to be a joyous occasion for a teenage mother when she delivered her first child turned out to be a nightmare at a hospital in the Eastern Cape.

Hospital staff and doctors delayed to perform a Caesarean section, resulting in the boy being born with brain damage.

The mother, only identified as H in the judgment, instituted a multimillion rand damages claim against the Eastern Cape health authorities.

The child, now 4, suffered from cerebral palsy and cannot walk, talk, or do anything for himself.

Experts who testified on behalf of the mother, concluded that had the mother and unborn baby received the necessary attention in time, the brain damage would have been avoided.

The mother claimed damages after her ordeal at Butterworth Hospital.

She was 15 when she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child. She underwent regular medical check-ups and all seemed fine.

At 39 weeks of pregnancy she experienced abdominal pains, and it was discovered that she was in her first stage of labour.

The mother testified that a nurse told her that she could not give birth in a natural way because her “bones” were too small; and that she would later on be transferred to Butterworth Hospital for a Caesarean section.

She had to wait several hours before the ambulance arrived to transport her.

At the hospital she again had to wait several hours before a nurse examined her for the first time. The young mother was only seen by a doctor the next evening, who only then decided that she should receive a Caesarean section.

The baby was eventually born with respiratory difficulties that necessitated resuscitation by a bag and mask oxygen ventilation.

He did not cry at birth and was kept for several days in a neonatal section, while the mother eagerly awaited taking him home. She knew nothing about the brain damage at the time.

She, however, did observe that he looked tired and his eyes were hardly opening.

He also could not suck.

It was only two years later, after she complained he could not walk or talk and had fits, that a scan revealed brain injury.

The experts agreed that the brain injury most likely occurred during labour. The mother’s legal team argued that the brain injury was caused by a failure on the part of the nursing staff and doctors at the hospital to monitor her labour properly.

The health authorities, on the other hand, maintained that the medical practitioners and nursing staff of the hospital rendered medical care, treatment and advice to the plaintiff with care and diligence as could reasonably be expected of them under difficult circumstances and limited resources.

The judge said the negligence, or otherwise, of the nurses and medical staff at the hospital must be measured in an objective manner, against the medical standards that are applicable in similar Level 1 Hospitals of the Republic.

He, however, said there were clear warning signs hours into the labour that there were problems and that the foetus was in distress. He said there were clear guidelines as what to do in such circumstances and that swift action by the medical staff was needed.

He found that the health authorities were liable for the mother and child’s damages. The amount due will be determined at a later stage after experts have testified what the child needed to make his life a little easier.

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