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Long battle to discover truth

BLANTON SMITH AND LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014
Ariana Lawn
ANDY JACKSON/ Fairfax NZ

TEAR JERKER: Cerise and Tim Lawn, with daughter Ariana, hope that telling their story will make a lasting change in the level of care provided to pregnant mothers and their babies.

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Ariana Grace Lawn was born pale, floppy and covered in faeces.

It took about seven minutes before the baby took her first breath and she now suffers from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, seizures and other developmental disabilities.

She wakes in pain numerous times every night, is tube-fed and requires a walker to get around. Her mother, Cerise, has resuscitated her three times since her birth 2 years ago - but it all could have been avoided.

Ariana was born at 3.50am on January 24, 2012.

Since then Cerise, 23, and husband Tim, 31, have fought to find out how a healthy pregnancy turned into a nightmare birth and why their daughter now suffers from disabilities she shouldn't have.

The pair said the experience had put them off having children again.

In June 2012 they laid a complaint with the Taranaki District Health Board, but what they got back wasn't enough.

The board took very little responsibility for Ariana's illnesses, and blamed it on group B streptococcus (GBS), a bacterial infection many pregnant mothers carry.

"I think they thought they could sweep it under the rug, I don't think they knew how strong we were," Cerise told the Taranaki Daily News yesterday.

After advice from friends and doctors, the couple took their complaint to the health and disability commissioner.

Yesterday commissioner Anthony Hill issued the findings of an investigation into Ariana's birth condemning the board, the obstetrician and the midwife involved.

In response board chief medical adviser Greg Simmons apologised to the Lawn family for the mistakes made in January 2012. "It's been an emotional and upsetting time for all involved," he said.

"We deeply regret the part that our actions played two years ago in Ariana's birth. Regrettably, we strive to provide high quality care but clearly we let the Lawn family down on this occasion and we are very sorry for the pain that has caused them."

As required by the commissioner, the obstetrician and midwife will now be referred to their professional bodies to see if further action will be taken against them.

Their names have been kept secret.

It's understood both are no longer working for the TDHB.

The commissioner's report found the midwife failed to react to signs of foetal distress, including the presence of meconium or foetal faeces, despite the couple raising concerns with her.

Other signs were not picked up and Cerise did not receive antibiotics she should have.

It found the obstetrician wrongly assumed she wanted little intervention, and rejected an emergency caesarean so he didn't have to wake staff and ruled out the use of forceps.

The investigation found his attempt to resuscitate Ariana was inappropriate and he delayed calling the neonatal unit, agreeing only once the midwife had asked three times.

The midwife said she waited for approval before calling because she'd been scolded by the obstetrician before.

Simmons said the commissioner's recommendations, including written apologies from the TDHB, obstetrician and midwife, had already been implemented by those concerned.

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Tim and Cerise said waiting more than two years for them to admit responsibility and apologise had been the hardest thing to deal with. "They only apologised after the commissioner's report came out," Tim said.

Simmons said the board wanted to assure the community it had learnt from the mistakes made.

"We have come a long way in the last two years. We're still continuing to work with the Lawn family over a range of further initiatives and improvements but have made significant improvements since January 2012."

The couple hoped their fight would not be in vain and though satisfied with the changes, they would keep an eye on the TDHB.

The pair encouraged families with similar stories to seek help and pointed parents to the Ariana Grace Facebook page and the red flags for expectant parents on www.aim.org.nz

- Taranaki Daily News

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