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A heavily pregnant mum whose baby died after a series of failings in his delivery was told to “take a walk to Tesco” just hours before because hospital staff didn’t think she was ready to give birth.
Adele Thomas, 25, was turned away from Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr Birth Centre in Ystrad Mynach three times while in labour in July 2018 because it was claimed she wasn’t in sufficient pain or dilated enough.
After finally being admitted on her fourth attempt, two midwives at the unit argued while her son Zak was trapped in the birth canal for 35 minutes, starving him of oxygen.
They then picked up the newborn ‘by his arms and legs’ and took him to a resuscitation room where, for a frantic half hour, Adele and her partner had no idea if he was alive or dead.
However, it wasn’t until Adele and her partner Stephen Carter read a report into the centre’s failings, published in early 2019, that they discovered the truth about what had happened to their son while he was out of their sight.
The findings – compiled by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which manages the unit – revealed that, when two doctors working nearby came to help, they discovered a feeling of ‘disinterest’ and a ‘lack of urgency’ in the unit.
It also revealed that the two midwives failed to properly monitor Zak’s heart rate, did not work together and had rowed before stopping Zak’s resuscitation early.
“Initially being turned away by staff was really scary for me because I knew how far gone I was and how quick things were progressing,” said Adele, from Caerphilly.
“And when they told me to walk to Tesco, which is a fair way, to help things progress, well, I just thought that was stupid.
“I could barely move as it was but what choice did I have? I could hardly find another hospital by that point.”
Instead, Stephen, 29, drove Adele back home to wait until she felt she had no option but to try getting admitted once again.
But she said the midwife eventually assigned to her spent much of the labour out of the room, failing to offer the necessary guidance or support.
“The attitude was very laid back,” said Adele. “There was no care, I felt like I didn’t matter to her.”
She added that things became “chaotic” when a second midwife arrived.
“She argued with the first midwife and handled me really roughly. At one point she pushed my legs back so far my knees were touching my shoulders.
“I still get pain from that today.”
Adele said: “She also told my mum and Stephen to shut up because her voice was ‘the only one that needed to be heard’.
“When Zak had been crowning for 35 minutes they said they wanted to cut me to help get him out. I remember them arguing between themselves and there didn’t seem to be any rush.
“My contractions ended, but they were too late to make the cut by then so I had to use all my strength to push him out. When Zak arrived he was red in the face and completely pale from the neck down. He looked like he was made out of porcelain.”
Without speaking the midwives picked up the newborn by his arm and legs and left the room, leaving new parents Adele and Stephen alone and panicked.
What happened next, detailed in the later Concerns Report, made for shocking reading for Adele and Stephen.
“The report was hard going,” she said.
“When the doctors got to the resuscitation room they found Zak lying on a table. The two midwives, meant to be working on him, were hugging at the back of the room.
“In the meantime we could hear ambulance sirens coming for him, but no one would tell us what was going on. We were going out of our minds with worry.
“Stephen point-blank asked them if Zak was still alive and they didn’t answer.”
Paramedics continued to work on Zak as they took him to the Royal Gwent’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, for whose staff Stephen had nothing but praise.
“They did everything they could for Zak,” he said.
“Unfortunately, he passed away in our arms. That was the first time we actually got to hold him.”
One of the midwives involved in Zak’s delivery ended up taking early retirement, while the second underwent further training.
“I still see one of them out and about – bumped into her when I was shopping in Asda once,” said Adele.
“It makes it very hard to get over the pain when you look across the aisle and see the one person who reminds you of the worst moment in your life.
“When I spotted her I got so angry my legs were shaking. And I know she saw me too, but she just walked away without a word.”
The pair are now preparing themselves for the inquest into their son’s death, which is currently set for February 2021.
Last year also saw Adele and Stephen take out a civil action against the birthing centre, which admitted to providing inadequate care and settled with them under the NHS Welsh Redress Scheme – a specialist process exclusive to Wales which helps compensate those who have lost a loved one through medical negligence.
In a statement, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said: “This matter has been fully investigated by the Health Board and failings in care were identified.
“The investigation findings have been shared openly with Zak’s parents and the health board has sincerely apologised for the failings in care.
“Our condolences and deepest sympathy are with Zak’s parents and family.”
Adele and Stephen are now parents to 10-month-old daughter Hallé.
“I was worried during my whole pregnancy with Hallé, but our consultants at Llandough Hospital and the midwives in the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff provided really good care,” said Adele.
“If we have any more children the worry will always be there, but they’ve definitely helped ease it.
“It has taken a long time and a lot of work to deal with what happened.
“To go into labour with a healthy baby boy, only to walk out of the hospital with nothing but the paperwork regarding Zak’s death is something we will never get over.
“I don’t think that grieving ever goes, but you learn to live alongside it.
“Having Hallé has definitely helped us with that.”