Some good news for a family who lost their first-born son when he was only two days old, is that the court ordered the health authorities to pay them slightly more than R5 million in damages as the child died due to the negligence of the hospital.
The parents, who are only mentioned by their initials in the judgment delivered shortly before Christmas, turned to the Bloemfontein High Court following their ordeal.
The Free State Department of Health did not dispute that staff at the Pelonomi Hospital were negligent. Although the mother was in labour, she was mainly left unattended by the medical personnel.
The following afternoon, on August 3, 2013, she was induced for labour and prepped for an emergency caesarean section, but she was never taken to theatre.
The baby, only identified as A was subsequently born the following day, through vaginal birth after an episiotomy was performed without any local anesthetic being administered.
He reportedly suffered brain damage and died two days later.
In the opening to her judgment, Acting Judge NG Gusha remarked that pregnancy and the resultant birth of a beautiful, healthy and bouncing baby are one of the greatest joys and blessings of motherhood.
“Indeed there is no greater love and blessing than to be entrusted with bringing a new life into this world, loving and nurturing it. Admittedly motherhood in and of itself is hardly ever easy, it is a path often filled, amongst others, with love, laughter, pain and all the other hardships of life in general.”
The judge added that, however, this is what makes the journey through motherhood and life so worthwhile.
She said the joys of motherhood start from the moment a mother-to-be realises that there is new life growing inside her belly to the moment, and beyond, when she gives birth and welcomes her child into this world.
“Mothers-to-be, new mothers and their significant others, revel during this time of their lives. Sadly this was not to be for the first and second plaintiffs (the parents). Owing to the admitted negligence of the employees of the defendant (the department), the plaintiffs’ firstborn son died a mere 2 days after his birth.”
The judge noted that the negligence of the hospital staff unleashed a series of unfortunate and heart-rending events which culminated in these proceedings.
The mother claimed around R9.6 million in damages for her suffering, while the father claimed more than R700 000 following his loss.
Judge Gusha said in an “often heart-rending and agonising wail”, the mother testified that she only held her son for a few seconds before he was taken away from her by the medical personnel.
She never saw him alive again and never had the opportunity to lay him to rest as she was hospitalised at the time of his interment.
The father testified that when he got to the hospital after his wife was admitted, he found her left unattended in the corridor on a stretcher. The sheets she lay on were drenched in blood. When he attempted to raise alarm, he was met with resistance from the hospital and security personnel.
His wife was eventually taken to theatre and when she regained consciousness, she found herself in an ambulance reportedly en route to Universities hospital whereto she had reportedly been transferred. She was admitted to and hospitalised at Universitas hospital from August 4, 2013 until August 19, 2013.
As a result of her ordeal, the mother suffered from heavy and persistent vaginal bleeding for three years. She testified that she was extremely depressed, suffers from panic attacks, is anti-social, has problems with her memory and has difficulty sleeping. She also attempted to take her own life twice.
On this note Judge Gusha said: “I pause here to mention that, seeing and listening to the first plaintiff tender her evidence, was the most agonising and difficult experience in my judicial life. So emotional was she, that it was often difficult to hear or make sense of her evidence throughout the screams.”
The judge added that to not be affected by that, one would have to be devoid of all human emotion. “No human being should ever be subjected to the treatment that she was,” the judge said.
The first plaintiff undoubtedly suffered psychological, emotional and behavioural sequelae as a result of the traumatic birth and subsequent demise of her son. She also suffered physical injuries which led to her receiving dialysis and suffered vaginal bleeding for three (3) years thereafter.
“Add to this the fact that she never had the opportunity to bond and grieve for her son and to get the closure she so needed by attending his interment. So severe was the trauma that for some 3 years after the fact, she could not be intimate with her husband. At the risk of repetition; no human being should ever be subjected to the treatment that she was subjected to.
The judge said that perhaps one ray of sunshine in this tragic and unfortunate turn of events is that the plaintiffs have now found some semblance of closure by visiting their son’s grave.
She concluded that the mother should receive R 5.1m in damages, while the father should receive an amount of nearly R400 000.