For six hours premature baby Ethan Barnard lay alive and alone in a cold Free State hospital sluice room.
Ethan was born at 1am on June 21 at Welkom’s Bongani Hospital weighing 750g. He was just 26 weeks and five days old when born.
His mom Cindy was allowed to hold him for only 15 minutes before she was told he would not make it and he was taken from her arms.
It is alleged there was no doctor present when Cindy gave birth.
A nurse found Ethan alive six hours later, shortly after 7am. She covered him in nappies and rushed him to the emergency room.
He died last week on Sunday, two weeks after he was born.
Ethan’s father Ben Barnard wants justice for his son who, he claims, was left to die.
“My little boy was a fighter. He wanted to live, but they killed him,” Barnard said.
This was the second time the couple had lost a baby in the same hospital. Their first baby died because of complications during pregnancy. He was born at 38 weeks in 2013.
Last year the hospital was investigated because of the deaths of five babies in October. The investigation found four had low birth weights and died from bleeding in the lungs.
Barnard said he would lay civil and criminal charges against the hospital’s medical staff for their negligence, which he believes led to Ethan’s death.
Barnard described his baby’s treatment as nothing short of child abuse. When he asked why Ethan was left to die, “as he was clearly alive at birth”, a doctor told him he was not a priority because he weighed under 1kg.
“My boy was not about to give up on life, yet they left him alone in a cold delivery room, covered in nothing but a cloth,” Barnard said, weeping.
National Health Department deputy director-general Dr Terence Carter said the department acknowledged there was a problem because there were no policies guiding hospitals on what to do with babies born at 26 weeks and those who weighed under 1kg. He said some hospitals still used an “old practice” where “not much effort” was given to the management of babies born under 1kg, as their chances of survival were “slim”.
A report released by Stats SA last April showed the number of perinatal deaths for babies, who lived between zero days and a week, increased from 13020 in 1997 to 22116 in 2013. More than 67000 perinatal deaths were recorded between 2011 and 2013.
Carter said: “New developments in technology and techniques, such as ‘kangaroo mother care’, indicate that very small babies under 500g are able to survive.”
Kangaroo care, also known as skin-to-skin care, is a technique used on newborns – usually preterm – in which the baby is held skin-to-skin with an adult.
The Births and Deaths Registration Act states that a stillborn is a baby who had at least 26 weeks of intra-uterine existence, but shows no sign of life after birth.
Babies born before 26 weeks are referred to as miscarriages and considered medical waste and are disposed of in an incinerator, with organs and amputated limbs.
Despite the legislation, which shows Ethan could not be disposed of as medical waste, his mother was given a medical waste consent form to sign.
Sonja Smith is the founder of NGO Voice of the Unborn Baby, which fights for the rights of parents who, in terms of current legislation, may not elect to bury their babies if they are born still before 26 weeks.
She said instead of leaving Ethan to die, the hospital’s staff could have done more to save his life.
“The fact that they left him in the sluice to die makes this even more horrific.”
Mondli Mvambi, Free State health spokesman, said Jabulile Mngomezulu, the hospital’s CEO, was investigating the matter.
“Our responsibility is to deliver healthy, bouncing babies. Our staff does everything they can to save those who show signs of distress.
“We have to get to the bottom of what happened and listen to all involved to establish the facts.”
Mvambi said “unfortunately” the staff who were present when Ethan was born were all on leave now, making it difficult to establish the exact details of the incident.