Hospital launches investigation after baby declared dead, shows vital signs
Published Monday, February 18, 2013 12:33PM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 18, 2013 7:10PM EST
A Toronto hospital has launched a review into how and why a newborn baby was declared dead after being brought into the hospital early Sunday morning, only to begin showing vital signs 90 minutes later.
Gerard Power of Humber River Regional Hospital, where the mother and baby were taken, issued a statement saying that privacy laws prevented the facility from releasing any information about either patient.
But he said the hospital “is reviewing all procedures followed in the care of the new born infant brought to our hospital by Toronto EMS on Sunday morning.”
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Power said the review is being led by Dr. Nalin Ahluwalia, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine, and Dr. Narendra Singh, chief of pediatrics.
“The review is looking at all aspects of care provided in this case, including the extensive resuscitation efforts by hospital physicians and staff beginning in the ambulance itself when it arrived at the hospital. The review will be conducted in consultation with all appropriate agencies, including Toronto Police and EMS. The Ministry of Health has been informed as well.”
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said she is looking forward to seeing the results of the investigation.
“I can assure the people of Ontario that any lessons learned from this case will be applied across the province,” Matthews said in a statement.
The ordeal began for the 20-year-old mother when she complained of stomach cramps early Sunday morning and told her mother they needed to go to the hospital. The young woman had not told her mother of her pregnancy, CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney reported.
The woman and her mother began walking along a pathway near York Gate Boulevard and Norfinch Drive in Toronto’s northwest end around 6 a.m. But the baby wouldn’t wait for the pair to get to the hospital, and the young woman gave birth on the pathway.
Allen Cameron of Toronto EMS told CP24 that the young mother called 911 herself after delivering the child. Paramedics rushed mother and baby, who was born without vital signs, to the hospital’s Finch Ave. site, where the child was pronounced dead.
As per hospital protocol, two police officers were tasked with staying in a room with the baby, who was covered with a sheet, as they waited for the coroner to arrive.
About 90 minutes later, the officers noticed the sheet was moving.
“One of the officers noticed a very slight movement of the sheet that was covering the child,” Toronto police Const. Wendy Drummond told CTV. “They went over to investigate further and actually felt a pulse. They alerted medical staff immediately.”
Hospital staff quickly worked to stabilize the infant.
Police said both the mother and baby are in stable condition.
‘Body seems to shut down’
Dr. John Smyth, a neonatologist at BC Women's Hospital & Health Centre in Vancouver, said what happens in these cases, which are not entirely unheard of, is that severe hypothermia sets in, which makes vital signs extremely difficult to detect.
“We know that physiologically, a decrease in body temperature causes the whole metabolism to slow down, including the heart rate. So it could be that under severe hypothermia the heart rate is difficult to detect,” Smyth told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.
“Where the person’s whole body seems to be shut down or slowed down considerably so that it is conceivable that there may not be much in the way of signs of life. So the person could be taken for dead.”
Smyth said on a cold winter’s morning, “It wouldn’t take very long for that baby to become severely hypothermic,” as newborns are susceptible to rapid heat loss.
He said the child likely “warmed up sufficiently” for her vital signs to become more evident, and the task for doctors now is to monitor her for adverse side effects, including damage to the brain, from inadequate circulation and oxygen delivery.
Doctors will be making sure “that the baby is responding like a baby should do,” he said.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney