Woman scalded during labour

01:43, Jan 31 2009
Mother's distress: Neeraja Vishnubhatla says her bonding with baby Sahana Abburi, born at the end of July, has been disrupted by her treatment for a deep burn caused by a hot-water bottle.

A Christchurch woman required skin grafts for severe burns after her midwife put a scalding hot-water bottle on her anaesthetised feet during labour.

Neeraja Vishnubhatla, of Woolston, has complained to the Midwifery Council about the care she received from midwife Sue Stockwell during the birth of her first child at the end of July.

Since then, Vishnubhatla has had skin grafts to replace the "charcoaled" skin on her left foot and is still unable to walk unaided.

The Midwifery Council this week forwarded Vishnubhatla's complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner for investigation.

Stockwell said she did not want to talk to The Press about her client's injuries.

However, in August she sent a letter to Vishnubhatla apologising for the burns and "all the pain and inconvenience caused as a result".


"This is my fourth year of practice as a midwife and I have never had anything like this happen before. I would never intentionally hurt anyone or do anything to cause harm to anyone," she wrote.

"As a result I have reflected long and hard on this incident and will ensure anything like this does not happen again."

Vishnubhatla said the incident meant she had been in hospital for long periods, had not been able to bond with her baby and was now unable to return to work because she could not walk properly.

The Christchurch City Council roading engineer said she planned to go back to work after her 14 weeks paid maternity leave finished as the family needed money to pay the mortgage on their new house.

"It's been terribly distressing. I'm only just getting to bond with my baby because I have been in hospital recovering from the skin grafts, and I couldn't feed her because of all the morphine I was taking for the pain," she said.

"I don't think this woman (Stockwell) should be delivering babies if she can't get a basic thing right like using a water bottle. It's just plain stupid."

Vishnubhatla said she was given an epidural during her labour and could feel nothing from her waist down.

Her midwife told her to bring a hot-water bottle to the hospital for "comfort"during labour.

About four hours before the baby was born, the midwife put the hot-water bottle on Vishnubhatla's feet because she appeared to be shivering.

Vishnubhatla said that after the birth she found the burns went almost to the bone.

She said she had to stay in hospital for eight days after the birth and later spent another week or so in hospital recovering from plastic surgery.

She had been in a wheelchair since her baby's birth, but this week managed to use crutches to walk.

Vishnubhatla's husband, Srikanth Abburi, said he had seen Stockwell place a covered hot-water bottle under his wife's feet. "The midwife was a bit worried when she saw my wife trembling."

Midwifery Council chief executive officer Susan Yorke apologised in a letter to Vishnubhatla for her "traumatic" birth experience.

Yorke told The Press she had forwarded Vishnubhatla's complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner, as she was legally obligated to do.Canterbury District Health Board general manager of women's and children's health, Pauline Clark, said independent midwives were autonomous private practitioners using a public facility who sometimes had input from hospital services.

Christchurch Women's Hospital had a policy of not providing hot-water bottles. It has told independent midwives not to use them, particularly for women with epidurals.

The Press