For six hours premature baby Ethan Barnard was abandoned in a Free State hospital sluice room before being rescued, only to die a fortnight later. Now his parents are threatening civil and criminal charges.
The Times reports that Ethan was born at 1am on 22 June at Welkom’s Bongani Hospital weighing 750g. He was just 26 weeks and five days old when born. His mom Cindy was allowed to hold him for only 15 minutes before she was told he would not make it and he was taken from her arms. It is alleged there was no doctor present when Cindy gave birth.
According to the report, a nurse found Ethan alive six hours later, shortly after 7am. She covered him in nappies and rushed him to the emergency room. He died two weeks after he was born.
The report says Ethan’s father Ben Barnard wants justice for his son who, he claims, was left to die. “My little boy was a fighter. He wanted to live, but they killed him,” Barnard said. This was the second time the couple had lost a baby in the same hospital. Their first baby died because of complications during pregnancy. He was born at 38 weeks in 2013.
National Health Department deputy director-general Dr Terence Carter said the department acknowledged there was a problem because there were no policies guiding hospitals on what to do with babies born at 26 weeks and those who weighed under 1kg. He said some hospitals still used an “old practice” where “not much effort” was given to the management of babies born under 1kg, as their chances of survival were “slim”.
Carter said in the report: “New developments in technology and techniques, such as ‘kangaroo mother care’, indicate that very small babies under 500g are able to survive.” Kangaroo care, also known as skin-to-skin care, is a technique used on newborns – usually preterm – in which the baby is held skin-to-skin with an adult.
Last year the hospital was investigated because of the deaths of five babies in October, the report says. The investigation found four had low birth weights and died from bleeding in the lungs.
Barnard said he would lay civil and criminal charges against the hospital’s medical staff for their negligence, which he believes led to Ethan’s death. Barnard described his baby’s treatment as nothing short of child abuse. When he asked why Ethan was left to die, “as he was clearly alive at birth”, a doctor told him he was not a priority because he weighed under 1kg.
The Births and Deaths Registration Act states that a stillborn is a baby who had at least 26 weeks of intra-uterine existence, but shows no sign of life after birth – babies born before 26 weeks are referred to as miscarriages and considered medical waste and are disposed of in an incinerator, with organs and amputated limbs. The report says despite the legislation, which shows Ethan could not be disposed of as medical waste, his mother was given a medical waste consent form to sign.
Sonja Smith is the founder of NGO Voice of the Unborn Baby, which fights for the rights of parents who, in terms of current legislation, may not elect to bury their babies if they are born still before 26 weeks. She said instead of leaving Ethan to die, the hospital’s staff could have done more to save his life. “The fact that they left him in the sluice to die makes this even more horrific.”
Mondli Mvambi, Free State health spokesperson, said in the report that Sesi Roseline Noge, the hospital’s acting CEO, was investigating the matter. “We have to get to the bottom of what happened and listen to all involved to establish the facts.”Full report in The Times