Man whose wife, 34, died during surgery at National Maternity Hospital settles court action

Man whose wife, 34, died during surgery at National Maternity Hospital settles court action
Malak and Alan Thawley.

A man whose wife died during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy at the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin, has settled his High Court action, writes Ann O’Loughlin.

Malak Thawley was 34 years of age, a teacher and a US citizen who was expecting her first baby with her husband Alan when she died at Holles Street on May 8, 2016.

When the case opened before the High Court last week, Alan Thawley’s counsel said that what happened was a “ cascade of negligence” and “it was one negligent act after another”.

Exemplary damages were also being sought in the case. Senior Counsel Liam Reidy SC said the doctor who carried out the surgery was an inexperienced junior surgeon and was not supervised.

Counsel told the court how inept the entire process at the hospital was illustrated in the fact that when they decided to cool Mrs Thawley’s brain with ice, two doctors were sent across the road to a pub to get ice as there was none in the hospital.

The fact the Minister for Health directed a statutory inquiry into the case gave no comfort to Mrs Thawley’s widower, Counsel said, can’t get over his wife’s death and has “severe hopelessness”.

Counsel said the situation had caused a " catastrophic disturbance" of Mr Thawley’s psychiatric wellbeing and he is not likely to recover.

When the case came before Mr Justice Anthony Barr today, he was told the case was settled and could be struck out.

Mr Reidy SC said the case had been settled for compensatory damages only and aggravated or exemplary damages were not involved.

No other details of the settlement which is confidential were given to the court.

Alan Thawley, a 31-year-old data scientist from Brusna Cottages, Blackrock, Dublin, had sued the National Maternity Hospital Dublin over the death of his wife Malak who was originally from Dallas on May 8, 2016.

It was claimed that Mrs Thawley suffered a laceration to the surface of her aorta and there was complete mismanagement of the major vascular injury and Mrs Thawley’s deteriorating condition, culminating in the loss of opportunity to save her life and her eventual and avoidable demise.

It was also claimed there was a failure to have vascular clamps available on site at the hospital for emergencies and a failure to have a red phone installed in theatre for use in emergencies.

It was further claimed that Mrs Thawley’s life was unacceptable endangered during the operative procedure and her death occurred as a result of the injury inflicted upon her and the complete mismanagement of the injury afterwards.

Mr Thawley had also sued for nervous shock and claims his whole life and happiness with his late wife together with his plans and dreams for their future have been annihilated.

Liability was not at issue in the case which was before the court for assessment of damages only.

The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street apologised in court last week for the death of Malak Thawley.

Counsel for the hospital Eoin McCullough SC extended deepest condolences to the widower of Malak Thawley and apologised for the events which led to his wife’s death.

The High Court also heard that when proceedings to sue were issued in January last year over the tragic death of Malak Thawley in May 2016, a letter admitting liability in the case was issued the next day.

In the letter, the hospital also apologised and extended deepest condolences.

Mr Mc Cullough told the court the hospital apologised on numerous occasions and an internal inquiry was also set up.

Opening the case last week Liam Reidy SC said the Thawleys had been profoundly happy and excited when she became pregnant.

As a surprise gift, her husband had arranged a scan at six weeks. At the scan they were told to go to Holles Street for advice about the ectopic pregnancy.

Counsel said it was a Sunday and an ultrasound at Holles Street confirmed the ectopic pregnancy.

Mr Thawley he said had researched ectopic pregnancy and had seen it could be treated with certain medicine, but Counsel said he was told that because the foetal sac had a heartbeat, the only option was a surgical intervention.

The couple felt they should follow the advice.

Counsel said to this day Mr Thawley regrets the decision made, but the couple were reassured it was a routine procedure which would take 30 minutes.

Mrs Thawley was taken to theatre at 4pm.

“Alan never saw her again,” Counsel said.

At 5.30pm a nurse told him a lot of blood was found in the abdomen and at 6.30 pm a doctor came to him and he was told his wife had lost ten units of blood “but they were dealing with it”.

Counsel said Mr Thawley felt he was not being told the full picture.

At 7.30pm The Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony came to him and told him the situation was very serious and doctors were doing everything they could.

Dr Rhona Mahony.
Dr Rhona Mahony.

“She said there is a chance your wife could die. About 20 minutes later, she returned with a specialist surgeon and said ‘Malak is dead”.

Counsel said Mr Thawley was told a trocar had been inserted in the abdomen and it had torn the aorta.

Mr Reidy said Mr Thawley remembered saying are you telling me it was a mistake and the surgeon said yes it was medical misadventure.

Counsel said Mr Thawley was in a state of shock and disbelief.

When he returned to Holles Street the next day, Counsel said the Master Dr Mahony said all surgery has risks and what happened was an accident.

Mr Thawley spoke to a relative who was a surgeon abroad and Counsel said Mr Thawley came to the conclusion what happened was not an accident.

Counsel said Mr Thawley felt embittered that the Master of the hospital had not said the situation was mismanaged and said sorry but told him what happened was an accident.

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