The family of an Indian woman who died a week after giving birth to her first child has been awarded almost one million euro in damages from health chiefs.
Dhara Kivlehan, 28, died from multi-organ failure in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital in September 2010.
She had been airlifted from Sligo General Hospital after suffering from a severe variant of pre-eclampsia called Hellp (Haemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes and Low Platelets).
Her death and maternity care has drawn parallels with that of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar who died in hospital in Galway last October after suffering a miscarriage and blood poisoning.
Inquiries into Mrs Halappanavar’s death found she was denied an abortion as she miscarried and subsequently suffered fatal infection as doctors failed to recognise and act on signs that her condition was deteriorating.
In the High Court in Dublin today, the HSE apologised to widower Michael Kivlehan and the extended family for shortcomings in his late wife’s management and care at Sligo, where the couple’s son Dior was delivered.
The legal action was settled in front of Judge Mary Irvine.
“The HSE unreservedly apologises to the Kivlehan and Sandhu family for the short comings in relation to the management and care of Dhara Kivlehan at Sligo Regional Hospital,” Adrienne Egan, a barrister for HSE told the court.
“They offer their sincere condolences to Michael Kivlehan and to his extended family in Ireland and India.
“The HSE confirms that lessons have been learned from the tragic outcome in Dhara’s case.”
Mrs Kivlehan, died on September 28, 2010, and the inquest in to her death, to be held in Northern Ireland, has been delayed for the court action.
Her heartbroken widower Michael has been supported in court by his parents Michael senior and Susan.
The couple met in London in 2002 where Dhara was studying fashion and Michael was working.
They moved to Co Leitrim and married in 2005 and planned to bring up a family where Michael was reared.
The HSE accepted liability in the case last week.
The settlement agreed before the court was for €790,000, which included weekly allowances for Dior and payments to Mr Kivlehan, his parents, and his wife’s family in India.
An undisclosed out-of-court settlement was reached between Mr Kivlehan and the HSE for personal injuries suffered.
Judge Irvine sympathised with the family and noted it was the third time in a week that health chiefs had held out “until the bitter end” on admitting liability.
“I am sure this has brought tremendous upset to Mr Kivlehan and the family,” she said.
Outside the Four Courts Mr Kivlehan, 34, described his late wife as a pretty, educated woman and said their little boy – who has already written several letters to Santa – has her brains.
“(Dhara was) A young, pretty, educated women that paced herself in life, carefully, like myself and to find things just suddenly cut short, nobody can plan no matter how smart you are for that,” he said.
“He’s (Dior) a healthy three-year-old boy with his mammy’s brains. Very smart.”
He said he would not have been able to win his three year fight for justice without Damien Tansey and Roger Murray of Callan Tansey Solicitors.
Mr Tansey said there were “striking similarities” between Mrs Kivlehan and Mrs Halappanavar.
“They were previously healthy women with treatable conditions who died in Irish hospitals in circumstances where that shouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Her widower, who lives in a mobile home on his parents’ land, vowed that his battle for justice will continue.
“Three years on from Dhara’s death, we still await an inquest,” Mr Kivlehan continued.
“We are heartbroken that our calls for an inquest in this country have, to date, been declined by the authorities.
“Many unanswered questions need to be addressed, and the only forum to establish the truth is a full inquest in this jurisdiction.
“Dhara’s memory deserves this at least and it is an ongoing breach of our family’s human rights for our calls for justice to remain unheeded.”
His barrister Des O’Neill had told the court Mrs Kivlehan was two weeks over her due date when she arrived at Sligo General Hospital on September 20 in labour.
However the results of blood tests taken that afternoon – which showed “grossly abnormal liver function and grossly abnormal kidney function” – were not followed up by her doctors or reported back by the lab for another 12 hours.
Her baby son, Dior, was delivered by C section shortly before 6am the following morning.
Mr O’Neill said instead of being rushed to intensive care, Mrs Kivlehan was transferred to a side room off the maternity ward for a day and a half with no specialist care.
On September 22 she was transferred to the ICU, where she remained until she was airlifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital ICU on September 24.
Mrs Kivlehan died four days later of multi-organ failure.
The family’s legal team has threatened to go to the High Court in a bid to have the inquest in to her death held in Sligo.
Mr Tansey revealed several medics involved in Mrs Kivlehan’s care as her condition deteriorated have refused to attend a hearing in Belfast, and can not be compelled to attend a hearing in Northern Ireland.
He said inquests in the Republic of Ireland into the deaths of Michael Dwyer, who was shot dead by special forces soldiers in Bolivia, and Andrew Hanlon, shot dead by a police officer in the US, have set precedence.
“The family have now decided that they are so concerned that questions will be answered that if the Attorney General continues to refuse to direct the coroner in Sligo to hold an inquest they will judicially review that decision in the High Court,” he added.