'Our baby died in my arms just six hours after her birth': a Limerick couple's story of loss

Eimear Arnold was born in 2010 in the Maternity and died a short time later. Was her death 'unforeseeable and unpreventable' as the HSE claims, or was 'negligence' to blame? Her parents are seeking answers

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

'Our baby died in my arms just six hours after her birth': a Limerick couple's story of loss

Teresa and Shane Arnold lost their baby daughter, Eimear at the University Maternity Hospital Limerick

EIMEAR Arnold was born at 26 minutes past midnight on July 15, 2010.

It was a Thursday. A day her parents, Teresa and Shane, will never forget.

Eimear lived for six hours and 13 minutes. She died at 6.39am in the University Maternity Hospital on the Ennis Road.

At around 8.30pm the night before Teresa began to feel “a bit heavy and uncomfortable” and knew she was going into labour.

They arrived at the second busiest maternity hospital in the country, with an average of 5,000 births per year, at 10.30pm.

Yet, on that particular night, as they recall it, it was an “almost eerily silent” admissions ward, with only one other expectant mother present.

Before she got to the labour ward, Teresa's contractions began, and as there were no wheelchairs available, she walked with a midwife from the admissions ward, up to the labour ward, past expectant parents in the waiting area, wrapped in a sheet from the waist down.

One push and Eimear was born. A beautiful, eight and a half pound baby girl, thick dark hair. It happened suddenly, but it shouldn't have been complicated, they felt.

“In all my other pregnancies, everything went fine. This was different. Nothing felt controlled; there was just panic.”

The first 10 minutes after the birth, they claim, would irrevocably change their lives – and Eimear’s.

They claimed, in a High Court case, which never went to a hearing and which was settled with the HSE eleven days before it was due to be heard, that the manner in which Eimear was lifted by a staff member after her birth and the way her umbilical cord was cut, leading to blood loss, caused her “untimely” death.

The HSE has denied each and every one of their claims, and the case was settled without any admission of liability on their behalf.

Medical experts enlisted by the Arnolds found no other explanation for baby Eimear’s death.

A short time after her birth, Eimear was handed to her mother, and lay on her chest, in the ‘kangaroo pose’, in a “blue, washed-out blanket”, without any skin-to-skin contact.

“One of Eimear's eyes opened,” recalls the Newry native, who for many years made Limerick her home, her family's home.

“And then, she just collapsed. She went floppy and blood started to trickle from her nose.”

She was their fourth child born, following the arrival of Kate, now 16, Ian, 14, and Niamh, nine.

Teresa, 49, who works as an electrical engineer with ESB Networks, became pregnant in October 2009.

It was a largely uneventful pregnancy, with the exception of being treated for hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure, and she remained closely monitored by her GP. July 15 was her due date.

Before Eimear's arrival, Teresa had a dream of looking at a dead baby in her arms. She put it down to being nervous coming up to the birth, as she felt “lucky to be pregnant” at 42.

But after Eimear’s death, she felt, the dream proved to be a premonition and turned into her “living nightmare”. 

In the labour ward, she saw her husband Shane  “go into shock”. She had never seen him like this at the previous three births. She started to panic.

“I kept saying 'What's wrong? What's wrong?' I knew something had gone massively wrong,” she said.

Shane said he was conscious of not saying the wrong thing.

He was not invited to cut the umbilical cord, something he had done in the previous three births.

He felt “numb and paralysed” as he began to realise the gravity of the situation unfolding in front of him.

“I am the only one Eimear looked at,” he said.

He felt he was Eimear’s “ears and eyes now”, and the sense of responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders. After her death, he felt that he had “failed her”, and was somehow being “punished”.

The curtains were drawn around the resuscitation area. Attempts to revive her began 10 minutes after her birth – six minutes after it was observed that Eimear appeared to be “moaning, limp and pale” - according to the histopathology report.

There was a heart beat, but no spontaneous breathing. 

Shane called for Teresa’s parents to come down from county Down to the Limerick hospital urgently. 

Tests on Eimear went on for over an hour, and then she was removed to the special care unit, at around 4.40am.

“We knew then that it was a grave situation. We have photos of her there, in the neo-natal ward, and she had every type of pipe going in and out of her. 

Two of their older children were brought to the hospital to see and say goodbye to baby Eimear, something they now regret doing.

A short time later, their sister’s heart, weighing 24.6 grams and beating at 150 beats per minute, within the normal range, stopped. The life support machine was turned off.

“But she was a big healthy, beautiful baby girl - eight pounds. One of the nurses encouraged me to pick her up and hold her for a while, and then she died in my arms.”

She and her family were directed to a tea-room, and one by one, consoling family members slipped away, into the dead of night. “It was just horrendous.”

During her three-night stay in the hospital, her GP, Dr Miriam Callanan, came to visit her. “She was just as devastated as we were.”

While they praise the support of Dr Michael Mahony, consultant paediatrician, wholeheartedly, and their GP, there are others, however, who they feel treated them less than kindly.

“The only nurses who came to sit with me and talk to me in the days after her death, whilst I was waiting for her to return from her autopsy, were the neonatal nurses who were wonderful.

“None of the midwives who attended the birth came to see me.

“There were nurses who promised to call in to see me the next day, and they never did. Maybe they felt they couldn't, for whatever reason. Others were left to deal with me in my mental state after losing Eimear.”

Discharged from the hospital on Sunday, July 18, the Arnolds prepared for Eimear’s funeral - a small service in Knockea, Ballyneety, county Limerick. 

On the Monday, the family made the long, slow journey up the M7 to Armagh, to bury Eimear in the family grave.

Weeks later, the preliminary findings of the post-mortem came back from the Children’s University Hospital at Temple Street in Dublin, under Dr Deirdre Devaney.

Yet, the results yielded little to comfort the Arnolds.

Each section of the body analysed produced no cause of death.

“Grossly unremarkable”, “normal”, “no abnormality” were the responses returned again and again.

Dr Devaney concluded that Eimear’s death was due to hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE), which was recent and acute, the cause of which was undetermined. 

The HSE, in its defence, later said that Eimear’s death was an “unforeseeable and unpreventable event”.

The condition, HIE, is caused by a reduction in the supply of oxygen to the brain and other organs, compounded by low blood flow to vital organs.

“All organs were intact and perfectly functioning, and there were no infections whatsoever,” said Shane.

Some time later, they agreed to avail of the counselling service that the Maternity hospital provides, but were told that under the HSE's policy, the session had to be conducted in the hospital.

“It was the last place we wanted to go,” said Teresa. “We went through the back door, via a fire exit, away from the main thoroughfare we had passed through a few weeks previously.”

In the end, Teresa's employers offered both her and Shane counselling sessions, which they couldn't afford themselves on an ongoing basis.

They spotted a small notice in the newspaper highlighting the annual Mass for lost babies in Limerick city, and in the Augustinian's Church on O'Connell Street, they picked up a stone in memory of the loss of baby Eimear.

But the weight of what they had to carry would be much greater, for another six years to come, and it's a loss they will carry for the rest of their lives.

In the summer of 2012, they filed claims against the HSE over the circumstances of the delivery of their daughter.

The plaintiffs, the Arnolds, through their legal team claimed that Eimear was raised above the level of the placenta in order to untangle her from the umbilical cord and that blood loss occurred during clamping of the umbilical cord.

It was further claimed there was failure to carry out clamping of the umbilical cord in a proper, effective and/or timely manner, and that this led to severe blood loss. 

They also alleged that there was an alleged failure to detect the loss of blood in a timely manner.

All the claims were denied by the HSE, which said it would be fully disputing the case, and the settlement was without an admission of liability.

In the end, the cases were settled for €98,000 plus costs, eleven days before the case was due to be heard.

The court had set aside three weeks for the cases to be heard, and numerous experts, including those living outside Ireland, were ready and due to travel to give evidence.

After six years, the Arnolds said they could face no more, and crucially, nor could they afford the costs that a full High Court hearing entails. 

They wouldn't have pursued the case at all, they said, had they been afforded more compassion by the hospital, its staff and the HSE.

But they felt that a “wall of defence” was built up immediately after the birth, and they were continually being pushed out.

They had to seek medical experts from outside the Irish jurisdiction - given the HSE's involvement - to examine Eimear’s records.

They detail, in documentation seen by this newspaper, that based on Eimear’s weight, just over 60ml of blood loss would have necessitated her collapse - “the equivalent of a sixth of a can of Coke” - but potentially crucial for her survival.

Finally, on November 14, 2016, after they agreed the settlement, the couple received a letter from the UL Hospitals Group. 

Received 2,314 days after Eimear's death, it states: “On behalf of the University of Limerick Hospital Group we would like to express our sincere and heartfelt sympathies and regrets to you all on the tragic death of baby Eimear on 15 July 2010.”

Teresa, from Newry, and Shane, from Carlow, met in Limerick nearly 20 years ago, while she was working with the ESB, and Shane with a number of car dealership and insurance firms across the city.

They met in Ted's nightclub. They made Limerick their home. It became part of their internal and external fabric and make-up. 

And then they left, when the memories became too great, and their financial struggles mounted.

They moved up to Carlingford in county Louth permanently in 2012.

Two years later, their twins, Thomas and Sinead, were born in the Rotunda hospital in Dublin, when Teresa was aged 46.

“They are healthy and happy little red heads, and are keeping us all going.”

She carried them to 36 weeks in another “uneventful pregnancy”, and they were delivered by C-section. They regret that Limerick is not their home too.

“We felt as if we were ran out of Limerick because of what happened,” she said. “It was just an unfortunate way for us to have to leave the city.

“We would have loved to have stayed here longer. All our friends are here; we'd a great social life. But it all got too much. 

“In one piece of correspondence the HSE sent, it included the home addresses of the some of midwives in the hospital, including one who was there that night, and lived just down the road from us. Surely that wasn't responsible?

Their daughter's friends are in Limerick and she wants to come back here to go to university.

Shane misses going to matches in the old Munster glory days at Thomond Park, when life was simpler, when he didn’t suffer from flashbacks, or nightmares or wake up sweating.

“We still miss Limerick and promote it to the 'n'th degree.”

They credit their friends and neighbours in Limerick for helping them to get through Eimear's passing. 

One neighbour brought a basket full of home-made scones and jam; another left a tray of lasagne under the wheel of their car.

In the years since, other parents who have been through similar situations have spoken to them about their own loss.

“In a way it sounds wrong, but it was a bit of a relief to hear about other cases. Only then did we realise we were not the only victims of a system that is in drastic need of more resources and more compassion. We couldn’t say anything because we had lodged the case after HIQA told us they didn’t investigate single cases associated with a hospital. We now feel that recently published plans to improved maternity services around the country have been brushed under the carpet.”

“The HSE approached us the week before the case was due to be heard, and we decided to settle, because we couldn't afford the costs if we lost [the case]. Whilst fully confident in our claim, with the best medical advisors on our side, we could not risk losing our home if we lost the case.

“We won't even say what their first offer was [before the €98,000 settlement]. But no money will ever bring her back. It was never about the money. We just want to make sure that no parent is put through what we have been put through ever again.”

An inquest into Eimear’s death could cost thousands more euro due to counsel required, and the expense of witnesses travelling from outside Ireland. 

“We can't afford that. We have only ever wanted answers. I’d be the first to say anyone can make mistakes. But it was just the way we were treated...it was as if 'How dare you question us.’”

“July 15 every year - that's a reminder," adds Shane. “If we knew it was due to natural causes, we might find it easier.”

Six weeks after Eimear was born, a baby cousin arrived – another little girl. Teresa didn’t feel able to attend the christening.

For them, there would be no christening, no birthday parties, just a date etched with “catastrophic” memories and a physical loss ever present in their lives.

“She should have had a little cousin called Eimear and be running around with her now, playing games, learning how to do Irish dancing, and all those little things six-year-old girls love to do.”