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Newborn baby declared dead twice


A Jan Kempdorp family was served a double dose of pain and trauma after their newborn baby boy was declared dead twice on two different days by two different hospitals in the Northern Cape.

Ishmael Matlapeng in front of the mortuary at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley relaying the events prior to his grandson’s death. Picture: Soraya Crowie.

A JAN KEMPDORP family was served a double dose of pain and trauma after their newborn baby boy was declared dead twice on two different days by two different hospitals in the Northern Cape.

Ishmael Matlapeng said that what was supposed to be a joyful day for his family turned into a horror event when the medical staff at Jan Kempdorp Hospital “refused” to save the life of his newborn grandchild.

Matlapeng said that despite the medical staff at the hospital witnessing the baby breathing, they however were not moved to action to save the newborn.

“My daughter is 15 years old and when we found out she was pregnant we were told that she would have to give birth at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley because of her age. We agreed to that, but she went for her monthly check-ups in Jan Kempdorp,” Matlapeng explained.

“Last Thursday morning, my daughter complained about having cramps. My wife and I took her to Jan Kempdorp Hospital. At the hospital, the nurses told us that my daughter would be transferred to the hospital in Kimberley. They said they would make all the arrangements for 3 o’clock when the ambulance is available.

“I left my wife with my daughter and went back again later in order to see my daughter before she left. I was surprised when I heard that there was still no ambulance to transport my daughter. At around 5pm, nurses told my wife to go and pack some items as she would be accompanying my daughter. They said they would continue to try and get an ambulance.

“As the evening progressed, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy. The sisters called the doctor as the baby was not crying or moving, though he was breathing. The doctor, however, told us that the baby did not make it and went to write in the book.

“We were shocked and heartbroken. My daughter and my wife were weeping. I went outside the hospital to call the rest of our family to inform them that the baby did not make it. As I was on the phone, my wife came running to me from inside the hospital. My wife told me that the baby was alive. I was confused, but she told me to go and see.

“I ran back inside the hospital. The baby was lying uncovered and not cleaned on the bed. My daughter was on the bed a few feet away crying. As I looked at the baby I could see he was breathing and trying to move. I went to the sisters and asked them to help the baby as he was still alive. The nursing staff was just standing there. I went to the doctor and begged her to help the baby. The doctor said the baby was dead and left.

“I went back to the nurses and again begged them to help the baby. They said they could not do that as the doctor did not give them any instructions. I asked them if they did not take an oath to save the lives of their patients. I asked them whether they saw that the baby was breathing and fighting to move and they agreed, but they still did nothing. The baby was just lying there uncovered and with no medical assistance.”

Matlapeng said he resorted to approaching the police to assist in the matter.

“I went through emotions of anger, shock, disbelief and desperation. I could not comprehend why the nurses blankly refused to help us and were just carrying on like this entire ordeal was nothing. I called the police and they came to the hospital. I begged the police to ask the nurses to help my grandson.

“The police went and asked the nurses to do something for the baby. The police asked the nurses whether the baby was indeed breathing and they admitted so to the police. They told the police that they did not receive any instructions from the doctor who had already left the hospital.

“I begged the police to help us transport the baby to the hospital. The nurses told us that should we decide to take the baby to Kimberley, we would be doing so at our own risk. I pleaded with the police to instruct the nurses to help the baby, but they also said they could not get involved in the medical duties of the nurses. The police said we should look for an ambulance and transport the baby to Kimberley.

“I asked the nurses to call the doctor. They did so, but the doctor said her shift had already ended.

“I felt like I was in a horror movie and so helpless as all my attempts to save my grandchild were met with no urgency. The baby was lying on the bed uncovered for more than an hour and I asked one of the security to run with me to go look for an ambulance.”

Matlapeng said they eventually found an ambulance and the baby, as well as his daughter and his wife, was transported to Kimberley.

“I rushed to Kimberley in private transport. The baby was admitted to Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital (RMS). He was still alive at the time. The doctor at RMS was shocked and asked why we did not bring the baby to the hospital earlier.

“The doctor told us that the baby suffered brain damage and that it would be tough for the baby to make it. When we asked what the cause of the brain damage was, the doctor indicated that it could be that the baby was not handled correctly at birth.

“The baby was connected to oxygen and some other medication was administered. My daughter was weeping the entire time and she was so confused. I did not know what to tell her or even how to comfort her as I was also heartbroken. I never imagined that my first experience of being a grandfather would unfold in this manner.”

Matlapeng said his grandson lost his fight to stay alive on Sunday morning at RMS.

“On Sunday morning, the doctor informed us that the baby had died. It felt so sad as I had seen a very little person fighting for his life. My wife and I did not know how to again break the news to our daughter that her son had died for a second time.

“This entire ordeal had a traumatic effect on her as a very young first-time mother. I am so concerned about my daughter’s mental state and how she will feel about having children in the future. Our prayer at this stage is that our daughter did not suffer permanent physical or mental damage because of this event.”

Matlapeng claimed that the “negligence” of the medical staff at Jan Kempdorp Hospital has caused his family unbearable trauma and pain.

“We now have to plan a funeral for a baby. The entire ordeal might have had a different outcome if the medical staff at Jan Kempdorp Hospital had prioritised the needs of their patient.

“It is unbelievable that we have people in such a critical sector operating in such a heartless manner. Doctors and nurses took an oath to prioritise the lives of their patients. We, however, saw the opposite of that oath.

“Besides being in the medical field, those nurses and doctors are human beings. However, they felt no urge to act when they saw another human suffering.

“It is heartbreaking that some medical staff in the public health-care sector are treating patients as if they are doing the patients a favour. We are supposed to be celebrating an addition to our family, but we are now busy planning the funeral of a family member because of the negligence of the people who were supposed to help us.”

Northern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Lulu Mxekezo said the department is investigating the matter.

“The department is aware of the sad and unfortunate incident that happened on Saturday, October 21, 2023. The department conveys its deepest condolences to the bereaved family,” said Mxekezo.

“The department is currently conducting an extensive investigation to understand the facts and dynamics of the matter. Appropriate action will be implemented after the finalisation of the investigation.

“The department is engaging with the affected family.”

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