(JAMAICA OBSERVER) A year after their baby died at St Ann’s Bay Hospital Alexis Heron and her husband Gavin Chong are still grieving, and have retained an attorney as they are demanding answers from the authorities.
The couple, accompanied by their attorney Marc Ramsay, shared their story with the Jamaica Observer on September 12 this year. In-between tears, the mother, reflecting on her decision to take her five-week-old son Axel to the hospital to treat a heart condition, said she feels like an accomplice to his death.
“I wish I did something different, but everyone says I did the best that I could. I don’t feel like I went there to help my child,” she said, pointing out that the baby died within four hours of arriving at the hospital.
Heron, in recounting what happened, said on September 11, 2017 she took her baby to a paediatrician after noticing that he was not eating. Believing it to be something minor, Heron said she had hopes of returning home to snuggle with her precious baby boy.
Instead, she became concerned when she was told that the baby had supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), an abnormally fast heart rhythm arising from improper electrical activity in the upper part of the heart.
Information posted on the Mayo Clinic website states, “Most people with rare episodes of supraventricular tachycardia live healthy lives without restrictions or interventions. For others, treatment and lifestyle changes can often control or eliminate rapid heartbeats.”
According to Heron, the paediatrician referred the baby to the hospital but she was reluctant to take him there. However, she said the doctor advised her that the hospital was suitably staffed and equipped to treat the baby and that the matter was too urgent for the child to travel to Kingston.
“I pleaded, ‘Is there another option?’. I was pleading, begging, can I go to Kingston, can I go to Montego Bay. I do not feel comfortable going there. I do not want to go there as I’ve heard about the horror stories and I don’t think they are equipped,” Heron recalled.
However, the mother said she complied after being told that if she travelled to Kingston she ran the risk of the baby dying.
Heron said when she arrived at the hospital there was no heart monitor to check the child’s heart rate.
“So I am now panicking, because if you can’t take his heart rate how do you know what is going on?” Heron said.
She said the baby was then taken to a room and placed on a cot but the nurses had problems finding a vein. After being poked repeatedly, without any success, the baby started crying and the nurses, Heron said, used cold water on his head in an effort to calm him down.
“I thought they were going to give him a drip but when they finally got the IV in him they put the medication straight into his arm and I literally looked at him and saw his life come out of his body,” Heron said.
“Immediately after they gave him, you saw where he calmed down and I saw his life being lifted out of him I saw his eyes glazed over and I thought I lost him at that point… I started pumping his chest and it was not until I started doing it that the doctors started doing it and brushed me off and they finally resuscitated him,” Heron claimed.
Heron also alleged that the doctors did not have any defibrillator or oxygen ready and she recalled one of them saying, while injecting the baby, “Bring the oxygen, just in case.”
However, Heron said there was no oxygen in the tank. The then moved the baby to another room which had oxygen tanks hooked up to the wall. But those, she said, were not working. The child was subsequently intubated and then placed on life support.
At that point, Heron said she turned to her mother who had earlier been barred from coming into the room with her and said: “Mummy, he is not going to make it.”
Her mother, she said, tried to discourage that thought.
“I said to them, ‘he is not breathing’ and everybody was like ‘he is fine’, but it was just the life support pumping his chest, he was already gone, he was already gone,” Heron recalled as she began to cry.
“I know that even if they had resuscitated him a second time he would have come back a vegetable because not enough oxygen was going to his brain, so that’s why I am at peace, because it is better for him to go peacefully than to come back and live a life that is not a good quality of life because I know he would have been a good man,” she insisted, while crying and being consoled by her husband.
Heron said that while she is not a doctor, she is sure that what she experienced should not have happened.
She said shortly after her baby’s death, personnel from the hospital gave her papers to sign, but her father refused, and they left.
Two days after, Heron said her sister went to the hospital to request that the baby’s body be moved to a morgue of the family’s choosing and found out that the body had been moved to a morgue that was not contracted by the Government.
Further to that, Heron said her family also learnt that a post-mortem was being scheduled without their knowledge. It was at that point that the family retained Ramsey.
“We basically fought tooth and nail to get the autopsy done through the correct protocol and we got a doctor to observe on our behalf,” she said.
Additionally, Heron said when her husband and her father went to the St Ann’s Bay Police Station to make a formal report about the baby’s death, they were told that the hospital had informed the police that the baby was discharged alive and had come back dead.
“In turn, that same police officer gave the US Embassy the same report,” she said, explaining that the baby was a US citizen.
“Before I can get any death certificate for him abroad we have to get everything down here signed off and sealed, so we were told that an investigation was being done,” she said.
However, in a letter that was sent to the US Embassy on September 20 by the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s diplomatic liaison officer, the embassy was told that the baby had become unresponsive while being treated and was subsequently pronounced dead and that an investigation into his death was ongoing.
Heron said to date, they are still awaiting word on that investigation.
The mother also spoke about the delay they faced in getting the post-mortem results which they were promised would have been ready within three months after the examination was done in September 2017.
Having not received any word on the results after five months, Heron said she and her husband went to the forensic lab in February this year to find out if the post-mortem was ready and was told that it had been delivered to the police from January. Consequently, she said they went to the police station but had trouble finding out who had received the report, as most of the police officers assigned there before had been transferred.
It was not until June this year that they were told about the post-mortem and, according to Ramsay it confirmed that the baby died from SVT.
But the attorney said there are many questions arising from the post-mortem as the baby’s condition was not an “instant death sentence”.
He said questions such as whether the right drug was administered, if it was done correctly and in the right way need to be answered.
A letter asking for a coroner’s inquest was sent to Superintendent Gary Francis at the St Ann’s Bay Police Station on January 24 this year.
In relation to whether or not the hospital had sought to meet with the family, Heron said the hospital had requested a meeting after the baby’s death, but before going to the meeting the family asked for the baby’s medical record.
However, the mother said when she went for the record she was given a medical release form to sign which, in the fine print, essentially said that she was indemnifying the hospital and if she chose to sue she only had 60 days. She therefore did not sign the form and the meeting did not materialise.
Ramsay said that on November 1 last year he wrote to the hospital requesting the baby’s medical report, but that request had still not been honoured. He also said that at that time the hospital was notified that it was being blamed for the child’s death.
“Patients or parents of a patient have a right to access their medical record. Even if they don’t give you the record they can give you copies or you should be able to go there and take pictures of that record or go there and examine it with a doctor for yourself,” Ramsay said.
Heron, when asked what she is hoping for, said, “I have no expectation of the system changing. I live in hope. I don’t think, not in my lifetime will this happen, but I would want a huge light to shine on this. Even though I know Jamaicans know that this is the situation, it is now a driving force of when are we going to come together as Jamaicans and demand better in our health-care system. A healthy nation is really a prosperous nation and if our hospital is really the first step to the morgue we might as well shut them down now.”
When the Sunday Observer contacted the St Ann police, Senior Superintendent Michael Smith said that the investigation had been completed and that it was concluded that no one was at fault for the baby’s death.
He said the post-mortem was done on September 21 last year. The body was handed over to the mother who sent it to the morgue of her choice and it was cremated and the ashes handed over to her mother.
According to Smith, the initial report from the post-mortem was inconclusive, hence blood samples were taken and sent to the lab for testing and nothing unusual was found.
Further to that, he said the investigation continued and a toxicology was done and from that report, nothing else was uncovered.
“The post-mortem was done and it came back saying no one was responsible for the baby’s death. A further test was done and it came back saying they did not suspect any foul play, that is why the body was handed over to the parents,” Smith said.
However, he was unable to say if the family had been directly notified that the investigation was completed.
When the Sunday Observer contacted chief executive officer of the North East Regional Health Authority Leo Garel for a response to the claims, he responded via e-mail: “Please be advised that we will make no statement on this matter as Ms Heron has engaged the services of an attorney and this is now a legal matter.”
He also said that the North East Regional Health Authority has referred the matter and all relevant information to the Government’s attorney for further handling.