Exclusive report: Seven baby deaths in seven weeks - are Waikato Hospital's maternity services in crisis?

A Waikato mother is disgusted with the medical care she was subject to at Waikato Hospital, saying a lack of action led to her baby's death and very nearly her own.

"It's only by the grace of God that I'm not with my baby girl.

"They had 17 hours to save my life and my daughter's life and they did nothing," she said.

The woman and her husband, both experienced health professionals, have spoken to 1 NEWS about their ordeal in January this year, but wish to remain anonymous.

They say they've been told their baby's death was the seventh in seven weeks at Waikato's maternity unit.  

'I was struggling to breathe'

Kate was 28 weeks pregnant when she was woken by excruciating abdominal pain in the middle of the night in January.

She was no stranger to pain, her experience living with severe endometriosis which led to her having an ovary and kidney removed and she'd built a high pain threshold.

But this was different, she said she could hardly breathe.

The couple rushed to the hospital at 1.30am where a duty midwife said staff were 'extremely busy' and the baby would be monitored through a device until the doctor could visit a few hours later. No pain relief could be administered until after that, Kate was told.

At around 5am, the blood results showed Kate wasn't in premature labour and she was told a general surgeon would review her in the morning. The pain relief wasn't working.

"They were worried enough that I needed to be constantly monitored baby wise, but yet they weren't worried enough to see why, or what was actually wrong with me..." she said.

The morning shift started but no surgeon met Kate. When she asked when they would come, she was told they'd have to wait and see. Her pain was progressively getting worse.

"I got to the point that all I could do was grip the bedsheets and sob and cry," she said.

It would be 12 more hours before Kate was seen by an obstetrician, seventeen hours more before she was sent for a scan.

"On my way down to the scan I vomited black coloured water with big blood clots," she said.

She said she knew she needed to pee after the scan, but her inability to do so was a realisation something was "really wrong."

She vomited blood clots again before her midwife told her the cause was unknown as the scan didn't show anything.

"I turn around and say to my husband and I grab hold of his hand and I said to him very clearly, 'I think I'm dying.'"

Kate went into cardiac arrest.

An anuerysm which ruptured her uterus and leaked eight litres of blood in her abdomen was the cause.

Emergency operation

It took 43 minutes from the time she collapsed to the time her daughter was delivered.

"We know that if a person is deprived of oxygen for ten minutes... there's irreversible damage," she said.

Kate was told her baby was fine.

"I felt scared in lots of ways... I've got this prem baby, but at the same time I thought, 'Phew, luckily that I was in hospital, luckily they managed to deliver my little girl and she was fine."

Kate's fears of brain damage heightened when she was wheeled to see her baby, several days later, and saw that her hands and feet were bent at unnatural angles.

A doctor later said her daughter was likely to have a brain injury caused by the traumatic surroundings of her birth. An MRI scan at eight weeks would determine the severity, she was told.

But that date was never met, the baby was unable to breathe on her own at three weeks old and had developed pneumonia that needed antibiotics.

"We asked them to not give her antibiotics and to turn the ventilator off, and to let her go."

"We didn't want our little girl to suffer," her husband said.

No apology

Kate learnt from her hospital notes that the scan she was told showed nothing, had actually showed an aneurysm.

An ACC investigation carried out by an independent obstetrician is damning of the treatment Kate received.

It reports her obstetrician should have seen her sooner. It says if they'd operated earlier, they would have detected an imminent rupture and an emergency caeserean would have saved her baby's life.

"They stuffed around for 17 hours, causing me to collapse... causing me to lose my baby... and they've never said sorry," she said.

Kate said she is "absolutely furious" over what happened.

"This is a place where you're supposed to go to get care, to get help... You trust the people to make sound judgements, to make sound calls."

A well-placed source told Kate her baby's death was the seventh in seven weeks at Waikato Hospital's maternity unit, a statistic that's left her disgusted.

"We are not a third-world country... we aren't out the back of Zimbabwe somewhere having babies."

Last week it was revealed that a baby died at the hospital after an emergency caesarean took priority over a mother's scheduled caesarean, prompting doctors to warn that the lives of women and babies were being put at risk there.

The couple have had no apology from the Waikato District Health Board or acknowledgment of wrong-doing.

A spokeswoman for the board said in a statement that the case cannot be discussed due to privacy issues.

'We have carried out a review of this case which we have shared with the mother and have offered to meet with her to discuss it,' she said.

The board said it believes the review was carried out in the appropriate time frame.

On average, one baby dies in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit a fortnight and the board said this is comparable to other district health boards in the country.

It refutes the figure of seven deaths in seven weeks.

The matter's now been referred to the coroner.

Have you or someone you know lost a baby due to a botched delivery? Email paul.hobbs@tvnz.co.nz

1 NEWS speaks to a woman whose baby died after she was left languishing in the hospital for 17 hours. Source: 1 NEWS

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