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Heartbroken North Vancouver couple seek answers after baby boy dies following birth at Lions Gate

A North Vancouver couple want to know how things could have gone so wrong with their baby son's birth, leading to their terrible loss.

A heartbroken North Vancouver couple is asking for answers after their newborn baby died following a traumatic birth at Lion’s Gate Hospital last month.

For Émilie Negahban, the birth of her son – a child she’d previously been told she’d likely never be able to conceive following cancer treatments – was a miracle that quickly turned into a nightmare, following a labour and delivery that went horribly wrong at the North Vancouver hospital.

Negahban and her partner Robin Addison have been left devastated by their son’s death and asking questions about how medical decisions made during the birth may have contributed to the heartbreaking outcome.

“We’re both ruined. We're devastated,” said Negahban. “We had a home ready for our son. We had a bedroom waiting for him, a bassinet. He even had a blanket with his name on it. We had everything ready to bring our baby boy home. And it was all taken from us.”

Now they are demanding to know what happened in the hopes no other parents will have to live with such devastating consequences.

Negahban, who at 31 is already a cervical cancer survivor, said she and Addison were both surprised and elated when she learned that she was pregnant in July. She’d previously been told she’d be unlikely to conceive naturally after her cancer treatments. But “Through the miracle of God, I was able to conceive my miracle baby,” she said.

She had a healthy pregnancy, monitored closely by her obstetrician. Because of her previous cancer history, she was considered at risk for pre-term labour, said Negahban, but nothing was noted as amiss despite regular checks and ultrasounds.

Her son’s due date was Feb. 22. But on Feb. 2, Negahban’s water broke early and she began having contractions. The couple went to Lions Gate but were told to come back when labour was further along. That happened again several hours later.

When she’d been in labour for 24 hours, she again went to the hospital, concerned about the possibility of infection. While staff tried to send her away again, Negahban said this time she insisted on staying.

Couple told there was a staff shortage at hospital

The couple waited several hours before a doctor saw them and had to seek out nurses themselves to have Negahban’s labour checked. “I was told there was a shortage of staff and no doctor could see me,” she said. After a number of hours without any progression, she was finally induced with an oxytocin drip.

But after what Negahban described as hours of pushing, and with what medical reports noted as the baby showing an abnormal heart rate, the baby was no closer to being born. That’s when the doctor appeared again and told Negahban she was going to use a vacuum suction device to assist with the birth.

Negahban said she was told little about the device or any potential risks in using it.

She added she still doesn’t understand why a C-section wasn’t considered earlier.

“From the very beginning of my pregnancy I was always open to a C-section,” she said. “I said whatever the baby needs. Whatever is best for the baby.”

When the suction didn’t work, after about 25 minutes, an emergency C-section was completed, said Negahban.

She said there were early signs that things weren’t right. Medical reports noted the baby was “quite stuck” in Negahban’s pelvis and that her pelvis was “exceptionally narrow.”

Baby didn't cry at birth

Their son didn’t cry when he was born, she said. “He was completely flaccid.” The baby was rushed to the neo-natal intensive care unit.

A medical report noted that an hour and a half after the birth a "bogginess" of the baby's scalp was first noted, believed to be "subgaleal bleed secondary to birth trauma." The baby was also noted to be more lethargic.

It was at that point the doctor informed the couple it was possible their baby was suffering from a skull bleed, said Negahban, and said he needed to go to B.C. Children’s Hospital right away.

The baby was rushed there by ambulance while Negahban was also transferred to the hospital.

But soon after she and Addison got a call saying they had to come to the neo-natal intensive care unit immediately, where they found a medical team trying desperately to keep their son alive.

Baby son died in her arms

“Then they gave him to us. And he died in my arms,” she said.

“We only got to spend 15 minutes with him. I was pregnant with him for 37 weeks and two days. I held him in my stomach. I felt his kicks. I talked to him. I sang to him for 37 weeks . . . I only got to hold my baby boy for 15 minutes before he died.”

A pediatrician at Children’s Hospital told the couple their son’s birth had been extremely traumatic and likely resulted in a skull fracture, she said.

Couple still waiting for autopsy results

The couple is still waiting for preliminary autopsy results six weeks later to learn the official cause of death. Their son’s body has also not been released to them. “He can’t be laid down to rest,” she said.

The couple plans to file a complaint with Vancouver Coastal Health and with B.C.’s College of Physicians and Surgeons about the medical care they received at Lion’s Gate.

They believe medical decisions made at the hospital contributed directly to their son’s death.

“I think that Vancouver Coastal Health has a massive issue with a lack of staffing. I think that the wrong medical decisions were made. And a perfectly healthy baby boy, a miracle child died,” said Negahban.

In response, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a statement reading, "A loss of this nature is heartbreaking for the family and care providers. We are deeply saddened by this incident and share our deepest condolences with the affected family. Vancouver Coastal Health is conducting a comprehensive review of the clinical event and the patient’s experience."

Because B.C.’s wrongful death laws do not recognize value of a child who is not contributing financially to a family, suing the doctor and the hospital is not a possibility.

The couple said they are speaking out in the hopes a thorough investigation will be launched and changes will be made to the care at Lions Gate to save another couple a similar heartbreak.

“We had imagined this beautiful life with our son,” said Negahban. “Everything was taken from us.”

pregnant couple Emilie Negahban and Robin Addison
North Vancouver couple Emilie Negahban and Robin Addison had been looking forward to a life as parents. |  courtesy Emilie Negahban