Hospital only intervene with babies born after 24 weeks
Holding her newborn son Tom for the first time, Tracy Godwin marveled at his eyelashes, and counted every precious finger and toe.
After the drama of his arrival at just 22 weeks, she knew she had a little fighter in her arms.
But at a mere one pound, and battling to breathe, he would need all the help he could get. That help never came.
Grief-stricken: Tracy Godwin whose baby boy Tom was 'left to die' in her arms after being born at 22 weeks because of a hospital policy not to resuscitate
Not forgotten: Tom was born on March 6 last year and survived for 46minutes
Forty-six minutes later, and despite her desperate pleas to midwives for assistance, Miss Godwin’s son died as she held him.
She has since been told that the hospital has a policy not to resuscitate babies born earlier than 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Yesterday Miss Godwin, who visits her little boy’s grave every day, told how she is haunted by fears she and her partner didn’t do enough to help their baby when the medics around her refused.
‘They put him in my arms and he cried and was wriggling around. I could feel him breathing and see his eyelashes and fingers and toes,’ she said.
‘But I kept thinking, “Where’s the incubator?” We were begging the midwives to do something to help him but no one was saying anything. He was not stillborn, he was trying to live.
‘If they had tried for an hour and said they couldn’t do anything more for him or he was severely brain damaged, that would have been different, but he wasn’t given a chance.’
Miss Godwin, 31, had been due to give birth to her first child on July 8 last year. She and her partner of two years were looking forward to becoming a family.
All went well until March 4 when she developed stomach pain and went to Southend Hospital in Essex. There, she was distraught to be told she was already in labour.
Put into a private room, she spent the next day in bed and was told by a doctor it might be possible to use a cervical stitch to prolong the pregnancy.
THE RESUSCITATION RULES
Although the NHS offers guidance on when to resuscitate premature babies, health trusts can decide individually whether or not to follow it.
Under the guidelines, doctors are advised not to try to save those born under 22 weeks as they are too underdeveloped.
Between 22 and 23 weeks it is not thought to be in the child’s best interests but can be done at the parents’ request after discussion of the likely outcomes.
At 23-25 weeks babies are routinely resucitated. Even with expert round-the-clock care, only 1 per cent of 23-weekers survive without disability.
Baby Tom survived for 46 minutes at Southend Hospital maternity wing
Tiny fighter: Little feet in the palm of his mother's hand
DON'T RESUSCITATE, SAYS LEADING DOCTOR
While Southend Hospital chooses not to treat babies born before 24 weeks it is up to individual NHS trusts to decide their own policy on this contentious issue.
Recently a leading NHS official said babies born after just 23 weeks or earlier should be left to die.
Dr Daphne Austin, who advises local health trusts how to spend their budgets, said doctors were ‘doing more harm than good by resuscitating 23-weekers’ and that treatments have ‘very marginal benefit’.
She added only one in 100 grows up without some form of disability. The most common include blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.
The NHS spends around £10million a year resuscitating babies born this early and keeping them alive on incubators and ventilators.
But in the early hours of March 6 – 22 weeks and two days into her pregnancy – she was in terrible pain and given the painkiller pethedine. Shortly afterwards she was aware of the midwife breaking her waters. She gave birth an hour later.
‘Because of the drug I wasn’t myself and I keep thinking if I hadn’t taken it and withstood the pain, maybe I would have had more fight in me to demand a doctor,’ she said.
‘We never saw one. It was a disgrace. I just kept crying and crying.
‘My partner was shouting at the midwives to help us but they just left us with Tom. We felt so alone, no one was helping us. I don’t know when, but I was suddenly aware Tom had gone.’
His tiny body was blessed by a priest and the couple went home later that day.
It was only four weeks later when they called a meeting with a consultant that Miss Godwin was given the news that resuscitating her baby was against hospital policy.
‘I just couldn’t believe it,’ she said. ‘I had all these questions about what had happened and why, and was just told: “I don’t know, it’s our policy.”
‘When you are pregnant you do not check what your hospital’s policy is on premature babies. To think he could have had a chance if he was born in a different hospital is just heartbreaking. You just assume the doctors will do everything they can to help you live.’