A mother’s cry

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My unborn baby should have lived

A local mum blames the death of her unborn child on delays in Queenstown’s inadequate public health system.

Natasha Murray waited four hours for a helicopter to rush her to Dunedin from Lakes District Hospital in April 2006 – as her otherwise-healthy baby Sinead’s heartbeat began to falter.

Murray slates the lack of basic maternity care provided by Southland District Health Board at LDH.

SDHB has come under heavy fire in the past two weeks after Mountain Scene revelations of Queenstown’s 22-bed LDH being significantly under-funded, with further hospital cost-cutting on the horizon.

“It was devastating. I felt I was let down by the whole system,” Murray says.

Just over three years ago, the seven-months-pregnant Mur­ray woke at midnight in a pool of blood – she had an acute case of placental abruption, where the baby doesn’t get oxygen or nutrients.

Rushed to LDH by ambu­lance, that’s when the life-or-death crisis began.

“I don’t think anybody really knew what the problem was.”

Monitored “constantly”, baby Sinead’s heartbeat was normal.

“Obviously I was distressed and scared but nobody really let me know what was happening. I was waiting for a decision to be made or something to happen.

“Then I learned what we were waiting for was a helicopter to come from Dunedin.”

The chopper didn’t arrive till 4.30am – Murray was admitted to Dunedin Hospital an hour later.

“By that stage I was in absolute agony.

“The paediatrician and obstetrician came to talk to me – they were going to do an emergency C-section but by the time I got there [Sinead’s] heartbeat was in foetal demise.

“I basically had to wait for her to die and give birth the next day.”

She and husband Declan are now proud parents of 14-week-old twin boys Matthew and Joseph – after a four-month ordeal of Natasha having to live in Dunedin to ensure their safe arrival.

“It wasn’t until I had an appointment with the obstetrician with my twin pregnancy that she said half an hour might have made the difference … that [Sinead] would have been delivered alive.”

No one told her why the chopper took so long, she says.

Placental abruptions aren’t uncommon and can happen to any woman – “but it still could’ve been dealt with [in Queenstown if LDH was better-equipped]”.

“I think you should at least be able to go for an ultrasound at LDH – they don’t even provide for that.

“In my case they would’ve been able to see what was happening and be able to make a better decision based on what was actually going on.

“Even if they were able to have an anaesthetist and obstetrician here, they could have still delivered the baby and transported her in an incubator to Dunedin.”

The couple wasn’t going to risk another tragedy next pregnancy – Murray had a 30 per cent chance of it happening again – so she moved to Dunedin at five months when carrying the twins.

They paid $3500 for a private obstetrician, $1200 in rent, plus living expenses and travel costs for Declan to visit every weekend – but “it was worth it all in the end”.

Murray: “I asked my midwife what do women in my situation do when they can’t afford it and she said ‘they just have to take the risk’.”

“[She said] there was nobody you could go to for support or help. You’d think [SDHB] could at least help provide accommodation services – even if they are subsidised.

“I don’t even know if people are aware of what some [Queenstown] women have to go through.

“I just want to put it all behind me now but I do hope [speaking out] makes a difference – and eventually we will get better services here.”