DHB says sorry to mum over plastic bag incident
Hospital systems are being reviewed after a mother’s distressing experience. Florence Kerr reports.
Waikato District Health Board has apologised to a Tokoroa mother who was given the body of her stillborn son in a see-through plastic body bag.
It has been 18 months since the incident that traumatised mother Julie Jeffery, who has since suffered another blow with the theft of her son’s headstone from Tokoroa Cemetery.
‘‘It has been one thing after another. To have your son given back in a plastic bag is something no mother should have to go through and his clothes were bloodstained as well,’’ Ms Jeffery told the Waikato Times.
Ms Jeffery gave birth to Julian on February 5 last year.
His body was flown to Wellington Hospital for a post mortem.
He was then dressed by staff in Wellington and placed in a plastic body bag which was heat sealed and flown back to Waikato Hospital mortuary.
Ms Jeffery said she was phoned by mortuary staff that his body was ready to be picked up.
She said Julian’s body was handed back in a ‘‘plastic seethrough bag’’.
‘‘It goes beyond heartbreak, it’s like your heart has been ripped out and stomped on. You love your child from the moment you find out you are pregnant.
‘‘I remember the first time I felt him kick.
‘‘ Those are things every mother remembers. He was loved from the start and to have him given back to me in a plastic bag, in blood-stained clothes is still very difficult. I want the hospital to know he is a person who is still loved and will always be loved and he deserved better than that and I hope no mother ever has to go through this.’’
Ms Jeffery admits cutting open the plastic bag, going against advice from staff.
‘‘I asked the mortuary technician if he could open the bag he said no.
‘‘There was no way I was going to hold my baby in a plastic bag back to Tokoroa, so I cut it open and hugged him all the way back home."
Waikato DHB communications manager Mary Anne Gill described the incident as ‘‘awful’’ and has apologised for the error.
‘‘We apologise for the distress this has caused Ms Jeffery.’’
Mrs Gill said Waikato Hospital dealt with between 5080 stillborn deaths annually, saying it was quite common for family or a funeral director to take possession of the body once it had arrived back from Wellington.
However, the body bag containing the baby is usually put into a sealed box.
Mrs Gill said the technician was right in not allowing Ms Jeffery to open the bag due to the risk of infection.
‘‘It is certainly not normal procedure to hand a stillborn baby back to its parents in such a way, we can say that quite categorically that is not our policy.
‘‘Why the baby was given back in such a manner in this way, we don’t know the answer to that [and] I’m sorry.’’
Given Ms Jeffery didn’t report the incident at the time it was difficult to investigate but the DHB would look at its policies, Mrs Gill said.
Cathy Buntting, chairman of Sands NZ, a nationwide organisation that supports families dealing with the death of a baby, was shocked. . ‘‘ I am horrified. Babies deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. What happened here is horrendous.
‘‘This incident will make the grieving process far more difficult, having first lost her child, then having the memory of her baby in a plastic bag.
Anyone with information on the theft of Julian’s headstone should call Tokoroa Police on 07 885 0100.
Additional reporting Nicola Brennan-Tupara