Couple slams hospital for death of their baby who suffered a fatal brain injury during his birth: 'Their actions killed our son'
The newborn did not breathe for 26 minutes after he was born and died in the arms of his heartbroken parents on March 12 when they made the decision to take him off life support
This March, Alison and Justin Clark would have been celebrating the second birthday of their son Sebastian, instead, the family will be gathering around an apricot tree where they buried his ashes. Sebastian died when he was four days old due to a fatal brain injury after, in coroner Dr. Sean Cummings' words, "lamentable" failings at the Kingston Hospital in South West London. If the maternity staff had done their jobs properly, the infant would have still been alive.
The now 32-year-old Alison had developed an infection and was left in labor for 32 hours even though Justin begged for an emergency Caesarean-section. Sebastian was finally delivered on March 8, 2017, with forceps only after the staff noticed that his heart rate started dropping.
The newborn did not breathe for 26 minutes after he was born and died in the arms of his heartbroken parents on March 12 when they made the decision to take him off life support. Without all the machines, the infant was able to survive only for four hours.
Alison told the Daily Mail on February 18: "One of the nurses said he might be able to pick up sound, so we were cradling him and telling him how proud we are of him. That day was one of the happiest of our lives. You’re not delusional — you know the situation is not good — but we were so excited to be together, just the three of us."
An inquest heard in January that Sebastian died after suffering multiple organ failure and a lack of oxygen to the brain after he developed an infection — acute chorioamnionitis — during his mother's long labor. Dr. Cummings criticized the "lamentable number of individual failings, both in terms of assessing the available information... and communicating that to staff". He also pointed out the "inadequate leadership" and the complacency of the staff in managing the devastated mother's labor and the fatal effects on her infant.
Alison continued: "I’m so angry with the individuals at the hospital who let Sebby down. How can they continue in their jobs? That’s something I struggle with a lot. Their actions killed our son. Why are they not in jail?" Just eight months ago, Alison gave birth to identical twins Arthur and George. The twins bring a lot of joy to the couple but they still mourn for the loss of their older son.
Alison said: "We had a shocking lack of support. A bereavement midwife showed up twice before being signed off work, and no one followed up. We didn’t know who to go to. When your baby dies, you’re grieving a life that could have been, not a life that was. You don’t have all those times you’ve shared to hold on to. You’re left with a lot of 'what-ifs'. I was desperately trying to find someone to help me get through it — and there was no one there. I vividly remember wanting to grab strangers on the street and say: 'Help me. I don’t know how to live. Help'."
Tim Deeming of Tees Law, the couple's lawyer, is definitely triggered by the way his devastated clients were so horribly let down. He said: "Anyone suffering as Justin and Alison did should, as a matter of course, receive prompt, appropriate support and counseling. The NHS needs to ensure sufficient funding is in place at every hospital to provide this for families. Sadly, nothing will bring Sebby back, but we have a duty to ensure that there is a lasting legacy for him and all the other Sebbys. We would ask that every hospital reconsiders the availability of free counseling support for as long as it is needed."
Alison's water broke on March 6, 2017, at 11 pm. The couple rushed to the Kingston Hospital where the mother had a "sweep", which is a procedure that widens the cervix to encourage a natural birth, and were sent back home. The inquest would later hear that a sweep can also "activate" bacteria in the cervix and end up leading to an infection. At 7 pm the next day, the couple went back to the hospital for another sweep when the staff found the infant's excretions in Alison's waters. This meant that their son was in some distress. The couple asked if they should do a Caesarean-section but they were denied.
The mother was given another sweep shortly after. Alison's temperature started rising because she had a fever and her son's heart rate began fluctuating. Once again the couple asked if they should get a Caesarean and were told that it wasn't necessary. Alison said: "I thought I was just being a wuss. Whenever we raised our concerns, they kept saying everything was fine. You trust them. These people birth however many babies a week. I felt in safe hands."
Alison was put on antibiotics to get the fever under control and Sebastian's heart rate didn't get any better. The doctor finally came back at 4 am and found that Alison was fully dilated so she was given an epidural and was encouraged to push.
Justin said: "Once they found out Alison had an infection, and the baby’s heart rate was fluctuating, they should have intervened. When we went over the report with Mr. Poole [obstetric consultant Andrew Poole, who was not involved in the birth, but who subsequently gave expert evidence], we asked, if we’d had a Caesarean at 4 am, would he have been OK. He said: 'By then, it was too late'."
Alison saw her son in the intensive care unit before he was transferred to a specialist baby unit located at St. George's Hospital in Tooting, London.
The newborn had suffered from a fatal brain injury and the scans revealed the extent of the damage caused over the next two days. The child would never regain consciousness. The mother said: "We were there with him for four days. There were periods of crying inconsolably and periods when we were really happy, laughing at his chubbiness, saying 'Oh, look, he’s got wavy hair'."
Alison concluded: "We were so angry at how avoidable it was. You almost have this sense of: 'We can change it now because he didn’t need to die'. But you can’t change it. Of course, you think: 'If I’d have been a difficult patient, if I’d made more of a fuss, would they have done things differently?' — but we’re not like that." She is currently raising funds for Bliss here.
Justin added: "Sebby is a source of love in our lives. That’s what we focus on. We had a celebration for him with friends and family and planted his ashes with an apricot tree in his grandparents’ garden. It’s a way for him to live on. A part of him will grow into the tree, and birds will carry the seeds to other places. That’s a nice thought." Justin is currently raising funds for Petals here.