Agonising birth botch-up

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2014
Theresa Nguyen
KEVIN STENT/ Fairfax NZ
SHOCK DISCOVERY: First-time Wellington mum Theresa Nguyen was horrified when she learned a swab had been left inside her for 11 days after she gave birth to daughter Quynh.
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SOAKED SWAB: This swab was left inside Theresa Nguyen for 11 days.

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A first-time mother had a large surgical swab left inside her for nearly two weeks after giving birth to her daughter at Wellington Hospital.

Capital & Coast District Health Board has begun an investigation into what went wrong after a GP found the swab inside Theresa Nguyen, 28, of Newlands.

Her daughter Quynh was born at 4am on June 19, after a hospital specialist did a ventouse, or suction cup, delivery. Nguyen's perineum was torn, and swabs were used to soak up blood before she was stitched up.

After two days in hospital and another two in a birthing unit, she was sent home on painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. A week later, the anti-inflammatories ran out and her pain worsened.

"I thought maybe I have a low pain threshold," she said yesterday. "It was excruciating. [The swab] must have been working its way out of me.

"I couldn't even walk up the stairs and it felt like something was digging into me."

Her contractor husband, Tomi, was unable to return to work because her pain made it impossible for her to care for their newborn daughter alone, which left them without an income.

Last Sunday, she told him she felt there was something inside her and made an urgent appointment at Newlands Medical Centre the next day. The female GP who examined her first suspected a cyst, but called another GP in for a second opinion.

As Nguyen lay there, she heard them exclaim that something had been left inside her. They found the swab, and removed it.

"It almost felt like I'd given birth to a mini-baby, it was so painful," she said.

"I kept saying, ‘Oh my God, I just can't believe it's been in there for 11 days.' I was so shocked, but I was also relieved . . . I could have got toxic shock syndrome."

She is considering making a formal complaint to the health and disability commissioner.

The medical centre gave her antibiotics, and informed the hospital. Two staff members have since apologised to her, and told her the doctor who did the ventouse was "mortified" that he had left a swab inside her.

"I don't blame him," Nguyen said. "He was very professional, but he was just under the pump."

He had to help five other women giving birth within a few hours that morning, she said. She wanted the hospital to review its staffing levels and how it counted swabs in such situations.

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Yesterday, the hospital's clinical director of surgery, women and children, John Tait, apologised for "this unfortunate event" and said it had begun investigating.

"Although it was a busy night, we can confirm there was a full complement of staff working in the delivery suite, including a consultant, registrar, midwives and lead maternity carers."

In the year to June 30 last year, DHBs and private health providers reported 13 "retained items" to the Health Quality and Safety Commission, including nine swabs, of which three were from obstetric care.

- The Dominion Post

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