Inquest hears details of deaths of healthy newborn and mother at CUMH

Marie Downey and her newborn Darragh were found unresponsive by midwives at Cork University Maternity Hospital on March 25, 2019
Inquest hears details of deaths of healthy newborn and mother at CUMH

Marie Downey and her baby son Darragh. Ms Downey was found by a midwife partially out of her hospital bed, in a contorted position with her lower legs still on the bed. Baby Darragh was found moments later trapped on the ground underneath her torso.

A healthy newborn baby boy suffered a massive and irreversible brain injury in a maternity hospital after his mother suffered an epileptic seizure, possibly while breastfeeding, and was found partially out of her bed with her baby trapped underneath her body.

The tragic details were confirmed today on the second day of the joint inquest into the deaths of Marie Downey, 36, from Knockanevin near Kildorrery in north Cork, on March 25, 2019, and her baby boy, Darragh, the following day, at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH).

Consultant neonatologist, Dr Brian Murphy, told Cork City Coroner, Philip Comyn, that Darragh was delivered at CUMH at 4.18pm on Friday, March 22, 2019 following an uncomplicated pregnancy and was a healthy baby boy.

While Ms Downey, who had a history of epilepsy, suffered a significant postpartum haemorrhage, she recovered and spent the weekend in a private room in CUMH’s postnatal ward.

The alarm was raised around 8am on Monday, March 25, 2019, when Ms Downey was found by a midwife partially out of her hospital bed, in a contorted position with her lower legs still on the bed. Baby Darragh was found moments later trapped on the ground underneath her torso.

The inquest was told that Ms Downey’s right breast was exposed and doctors believed that she may have been breastfeeding Darragh when she suffered an epileptic seizure. The inquest was told that when Darragh was found trapped under his mother’s body, he was cold and unresponsive.

In her statement, which was read into the record, Dr Hannah Glynn, a junior obstetrics registrar - one of several doctors who rushed to Ms Downey’s room - said she passed midwives running towards the neonatal nursery resuscitation room, carrying baby Darragh, and heard one of them say: "I think this baby is gone, and the mother is too".

While doctors assessed Ms Downey in the room, Dr Murphy said neonatal doctors immediately began intensive resuscitation efforts on Darragh in the resus room, including breathing supports, intubation, administration of adrenaline and fluids, and cardiac compressions.

A heartbeat was first detected 20 minutes into the resuscitation but it was just 60 beats per minute - a very low rate - followed by the detection of a weak pulse. His heart rate increased to about 136 beats per minute a few minutes later and he was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit.

But Dr Murphy said baby Darragh did not respond to stimuli, there was no spontaneous movement, there was minimal electrical activity in the brain, and at no stage did medical staff see any sustained respiratory effort. Darragh had “an occasional gasp on the ventilator” but there were no signs of life, he said.

On March 26, Dr Murphy said it was clear that Darragh had been starved of oxygen while trapped under his mother’s body and had suffered a severe and irreversible brain injury.

He said ongoing intensive care support was futile and not in Darragh’s best interests and following consultation with medical colleagues and the Downey family, a decision was taken to withdraw intensive care supports.

Dr Murphy said:

From the moment I met him that morning, I knew the prognosis was bleak.

“I felt it was unlikely he would survive but I wanted to be absolutely certain for myself and more importantly for Darragh and his family that we gave him every chance of recovery.” 

Darragh was brought in a cot to a family room to be with his father and brothers before intensive care support was withdrawn at 4.27pm. Dr Murphy pronounced death at 5pm.

Consultant obstetrician, Dr Keelin O’Donoghue, who cared for Ms Downey during her three pregnancies, is giving evidence to the inquest today.

The hearing is set to continue before a jury of four men and three women late into the evening, and again tomorrow.

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