Moms’ torment after baby deaths mystery

getimage (5)Families still wait for answers a month after double tragedy at hospital

As Walmer mom Yandiswa Zondani watched her baby daughter’s tiny coffin being lowered into the ground she broke into heart-rending sobs. On the other side of the Bay, in Kwazakhele, Phathiswa Dada sat tearfully wondering why her toddler daughter was taken so soon.

Both babies died at Dora Nginza Hospital. Both mothers know that a nurse has been suspended. Both say the hospital’s answers have left them with even more questions.

Six-week-old Lilonke Zondani and two-year-old Asiphile Dada died within hours of each other when a nurse at Dora Nginza allegedly injected them with the wrong medication on January 9.

In the month that has passed, their families have been begging hospital staff for answers while trying to make sense of the tragedies.

The families say when their children died they were about to be discharged from the hospital.

Zondani took her daughter, Lilonke, to the hospital on December 31 as she seemed weak and was struggling to breastfeed.

Lilonke was diagnosed with a lung infection but was responding well to treatment, Zondani said.

On January 8, the day before she was to be discharged, she was given an injection at 9pm and died just minutes later. “I saw my baby shrink into a ball. I called the nurse, asking what was going on, but the nurse just took the child to the emergency room.

“At that moment I already suspected my baby was dead,” Zondani said.

It was then that Dada, whose toddler Asiphile was in the same ward, began consoling Zondani.

She did not know that her little girl would also be dead just hours later. Asiphile, who had Down syndrome and a heart condition, was also admitted to Dora Nginza on December 31.

She too was diagnosed with a lung infection.

Dada said the same nurse who had injected Lilonke gave her daughter an injection in the early hours of January 9.

“The syringe looked very full, and I asked the sister why. She responded by saying she had diluted the medicine with water,” Dada said. She added that little Asiphile had panicked when the nurse wanted to inject her, so she was holding her at the time.

“When the nurse gave the injection I felt my daughter’s body stiffen and suddenly go limp. When I looked at her face there was white foam in her mouth.”

Dada said she asked the nurses what was happening, but got no answers – they simply took the toddler to the emergency room.

Lilonke’s father, Siya Flepu, 27, said he did not believe Zondani when she phoned to say his daughter was dead.

“I was there earlier that day and the baby was fine.”

Similarly, Innocent Dada, 43, Asiphile’s father, was also at the hospital earlier and said his daughter seemed in good health.

He received the devastating news in the early hours of January 9.

“I borrowed a friend’s car and rushed to the hospital. I was looking for someone who could tell us what had happened. One nurse referred me to another, and no one could help me.”

Both families returned home hoping to find out more later that day, but hospital staff were still tight-lipped about the two babies’ deaths. Zondani said she became confused and angry when nurses “tried to cover up” by shifting the blame away from the staff who were on duty.

“They suggested to me that my baby had a heart problem, or said maybe she was a premature baby. They even claimed she could have been HIV positive. But I showed all the doctor’s notes from previous visits.

“They actually looked disappointed when they found out my baby was healthy.” Doctors and nurses assured the families they would get to the bottom of the deaths. But five days went by with no word, they say. Funeral arrangements were made but the babies’ bodies were still not available.

Upset by the lack of communication the two families returned to the hospital a week later demanding answers. They claim they found hospital management in a meeting with Department of Health officials from Bhisho.

They say they interrupted the meeting asking where their babies’ bodies were and were shocked to discover the Bhisho officials knew nothing about the tragedies.

Both families say they were sent to the Mount Road mortuary, then the New Brighton mortuary, only to find out later that the bodies were still at Dora Nginza.

Later the remains were transported to New Brighton where finally the families were able to identify them.

The families also fear that crucial evidence relating to the babies deaths is now missing: they say drips were removed and medicine containers discarded.

Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo confirmed the two babies had died and that a nurse had been placed on suspension.

“I can confirm that the nurse involved has been placed on precautionary suspension.

“Toxicology tests have been conducted as part of our investigation,” Kupelo said. He added that the nurse was acting on the orders of a doctor who had prescribed the medication, but he would not say whether the doctor was being investigated.

Kupelo said he could provide no further information “at this stage”.

Attorney Egon Oswald is assisting the two families in instituting civil claims.

-Hendrick Mphande and Riaan Marais

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