Her stomach a tomb

2014-08-05 00:00

A PIETERMARITZBURG mother was left traumatised and in pain after she was left to continue carrying her unborn baby — which had been dead for weeks.

Edendale Hospital allegedly refused to operate on the woman and remove the foetus for at least three weeks, her family said.

The 34-year-old woman, who does not want to be named, suffered an Intra-Uterine Death (IUD) during her pregnancy. This is when the foetus dies while it is still inside the uterus.

Family members are now contemplating taking legal action as they are angry about the “disgraceful treatment” meted out to her.

For almost three weeks, they said, the traumatised mother-to-be had walked around with her dead baby in her womb since the hospital apparently decided that operating was not a priority.

Her cousin, Staff Mkhize, said when the woman was eight months pregnant she did not feel her child moving and went to the clinic.

She was referred to hospital on July 8, where it was discovered the baby had died. However instead of operating immediately, she was sent home.

She finally underwent an operation only on July 25, after the procedure — which was intially scheduled for July 17 — was cancelled without explanation. “During this period, she took ill twice and they just gave her pain medication and sent her back, only for her to continue suffering at night. We do not know whether it was because the baby was heavy or whether there were diseases,” Mkhize said.

She said the operation was scheduled for July 17 after they had called the MEC’s office to complain, only for it to be cancelled.

The woman’s file went missing and when it was found, some documents relating to the IUD were missing.

Mkhize said when the stillborn child was finally removed from the womb, “it had been dead for several weeks and was in advanced state of decomposition”.

He added: “What they did there was very wrong.”

He said even the eventual operation was botched. “She is in pain, she is complaining that the stitches were not completed,” said Mkhize.

Another source said the family is contemplating legal action after the incident.

He described the conduct as shameful. “She basically had to walk around for days with a tomb in her stomach,” the source said in reference to the fact that the baby should have been removed and buried. “We can sue.”

• thamsanqam@witness.co.za

department response

THE Department of Health refused to respond directly to an enquiry from The Witness regarding the incident, saying it would violate doctor/patient confidentiality. Department spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said IUD occurs in about one in every 50 pregnancies.

“The mother should be counselled about the fact that the baby has died and about the reasons for the death if these are known. She must be treated with compassion in her time of loss.”

He said there was no rush to deliver after the IUD. “A plan must be made regarding how and when the woman will deliver … This will depend on the cause of the IUD, and the mother’s physical and emotional condition.”

He said if the mother is not in labour and is in a stable physical condition, there is no urgency to rush the delivery. “The mother’s physical condition is unlikely to deteriorate because she is carrying an IUD. It is usually safer for the woman to deliver by normal vaginal delivery, rather than by Caesarean section … This may entail a waiting period.”


EXPERTS differed on how serious the case was. Lawyer Shereen Meersingh, who specialises in medical negligence, cases said the case was extreme.

“They knew that they had to operate immediately because she could lose her Fallopian tube and that could reduce her chances of having any more children,” she said.

However, a local gynaecologist, who cannot be named for professional reasons, said the woman was not in immediate danger.

He said the normal practice is that once the baby is no longer alive, the labour can be induced.

“Personally, I would not leave it that long,” he said.

previous claims

IN the 2012/13 financial year, it was reported in the media that the KZN department spent almost billion rand on medical negligence claims.

A total of R992 million was spent, of which almost R800 million in claims related to maternal healthcare.

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