A mother has been left heartbroken and fearing for her miscarried baby’s spirit after its remains were lost at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital in late August.
Charese Hemopo was in the South Auckland hospital’s emergency department “an hour or two” after miscarrying – at 13 or 14 weeks gestation and while in hospital – when she was asked to put the remains, earlier given to her in a plastic box, on a bedside table while being examined.
The hand-sized box was mistakenly left behind when she was moved to a ward soon after, and hasn’t been seen since.
“Now I feel like my baby’s not resting,” Hemopo said.
“Even though it’s not a [full term] baby, it still has a spirit of its own, and that spirit is in a tip somewhere.”
The August 29 incident has sparked a “detailed investigation” to ensure it was never repeated, Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau women’s health clinical director Dr Andy Simons said.
“We are incredibly saddened by this tragic event, and sincerely apologise and extend our deepest sympathies to Ms Hemopo and her whānau.”
Middlemore had a “return of taonga” policy, which included tissue of the patient and/or their whānau, and incorporated tradition, cultural beliefs and practices and “most importantly, respecting the deceased with extra sensitivity placed on the care of embryos or foetuses”, Simons said.
“It came to me… ‘Where’s my baby?'”
The investigation – led by a Māori Health clinical advisor – recognised the deep harm such incidents caused, and its findings would be used to make improvements, he said.
“Ultimately our aim is to never have a situation like this occur again, to never have another whānau experience the same anguish.”
It was about an hour after being moved to the gynaecology ward when she realised she didn’t have her baby’s remains, Hemopo said.
After being examined by the emergency department doctor, several nurses had visited before an orderly had moved the 32-year-old to the ward.
“It came to me… ‘Where’s my baby?'”, she said of the moment she realised the plastic box had been left behind.
“At that moment I’d been up all night, it’d been traumatic and I wasn’t aware of everything around me, I was on medication… and for the baby to be my responsibility?
“I mean, my baby is my responsibility, but I wasn’t in the right state of mind to be able to [take responsibility].”
Ward nurses told her they’d contact the emergency department to find the remains, but a few hours later told Hemopo the department was so busy no one was answering the phone.
They promised to keep trying, but the devastated mum was “losing hope”.
“It was awful. I was saying, ‘This is an emergency, it’s important’. It was like they didn’t care … why couldn’t they just go down there? I would’ve gone myself but I was bedridden.”