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Viral Wentworth Hospital video raises questions about death of woman pleading for help

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The family of 67-year-old Rowena Hawkey say they are considering their options to take legal action against the Department of Health

Rowena Hawkey, 67, passed away last week. Days later, a video of her pleading for help went viral. Picture: Supplied

THE FAMILY of an elderly woman who was seen struggling to breathe and screaming for help at Wentworth Hospital in Durban in a video that has been circulating on social media have confirmed that she died.

According to the family, 67-year-old Rowena Hawkey, from Berea, died following a cardiac arrest on January 6, two days after she was taken to Wentworth Hospital.

Her nephew, Allon Pretorius said Hawkey’s daughter, Theresa, was only informed of her mother’s death on January 8 when she went to the hospital to visit her.

Pretorius said Hawkey’s death and the alleged poor treatment she received was very distressing to the family.

“We would like to find out what really happened and why Rowena did not receive the proper care that she was entitled to,” he said.

A video of Hawkey screaming that she could not breathe went viral on social media.

“I can’t breathe! Please get me out of here! Please get me out of here! I’m gonna die like this,” Hawkey screams. She beckons to someone to help her and he responds that he cannot move.

“I’ve asked everybody to help me. Nobody wants to help me. I can’t live like this,” Hawkey shouts. At least four other patients are inside the room, two are lying on the floor and a third appears to be asleep. The fourth is the person recording the video.

Pretorius said he was very disturbed by the video.

“It was very distressing to see my aunt suffering so much. I could not sleep last night. Every time I closed my eyes, I would replay the images.

“It saddens me, too that we only heard of her death days after she had passed,” he said.

He said that while the video was shared without the family’s permission, the fact that his aunt was not helped should not be ignored.

Another close relative, Marc Ladeira, said his aunt had chronic asthma and silicosis.

Ladeira said that on January 4 Hawkey had difficulty breathing and an ambulance was called.

He said she was not immediately admitted to Wentworth Hospital and had to wait for more than 12 hours in a wheelchair.

“She sat there from Monday, 4pm in the afternoon, through the night with no blankets until 7am the following morning, which was on Tuesday,” he said.

Ladeira said Hawkey was finally admitted to a ward at 8am and that she had been attended to by two male doctors.

He said his cousin, Theresa, was informed by the hospital that her mom had suffered a heart attack and that she could not be revived.

Theresa informed the rest of the family the following morning, he said.

Ladeira said his 78-year-old mother who lives in the UK, Hawkey’s older sister, called him sobbing after hearing of her death.

He said Hawkey had had breathing difficulties after a near-drowning when she was three years old.

He added that the family had had no idea that there was a video of his aunt until he came across it on social media while at work on Monday.

“I had to stop, you know when you know someone and you know their voice … It’s like a twist in the heart,” he said.

Ladeira said that after the initial horror and shock, he sent the video to his family, who were appalled by what they saw.

“I’m upset by the situation but I appreciate someone sharing the video because we wouldn’t have known her final moments,” he said.

However, he added that after seeing the video it did not seem like his aunt had died of cardiac arrest.

Ladeira said he had issues with the way his aunt was treated before and after she was admitted.

“The one question that I would ask the staff is: ’Would you treat your own parents or your kids like that?’”

In a statement on Monday, the KZN Department of Health had stated that the video was shot on December 22 and that the incident was under investigation.

But Ladeira said his aunt had not been to the hospital before January 4.

Pretorius said the family were considering their options with regard to legal action against the Department of Health.

He said Ladeira would be contacting a Durban law firm regarding the matter.

“We collectively cannot just let something like this happen,” said Ladeira.

He said that while he understood the Covid-19 crisis and the shortage of resources the country was dealing with, there was no excuse for what happened.

Ladeira said his aunt had the constitutional right to life and to be treated with dignity.

He said the chief executive of Wentworth Hospital had called him on Tuesday afternoon to offer his condolences.

The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment in response to the claims made by Hawkey’s family.

Hawkey’s daughter Theresa was not available for comment on Tuesday as she was dealing with her mother’s affairs and finalising funeral arrangements.

The funeral will be held at a private ceremony on Friday.

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