Mum sues hospital after stranger breastfed her baby

Tammy Van Dyke is suing Abbott Northwestern Hospital after the mix-up.
Tammy Van Dyke is suing Abbott Northwestern Hospital after the mix-up.  Photo: ABC News

A mother of two is suing a Minnesota hospital for negligence after a mix-up saw her newborn baby breastfed by another woman.

Two days after Tammy Van Dyke gave birth to her son, Cody, in 2012, staff at Abbott Northwestern Hospital accidentally placed him with another mum. The unnamed woman, who had given birth to twins, then breastfeed Cody, believing he was her baby, Liam.

As a result of the mix-up, Cody endured a year of blood tests for HIV and hepatitis, all of which returned negative.  

Ms Van Dyke has now filed a lawsuit against the hospital claiming they "negligently failed to care" for her son, saying that as a result, both parties have had to endure "unnecessary medical treatment and tests".

She is now seeking $50,000 in damages.

Ms Van Dyke described Cody's tests, which took place every three months for a one-year period, as "horrible". 

"Two nurses had to go in through veins in his tiny little arms," she said.

In an interview with KSTP-TV following the 2012 incident, Ms Van Dyke expressed her shock at the error. "In good faith you drop your child off at the hospital nursery with the nurses," she said. "Never in a million years would you think this could happen or would happen."

The other mother affected by the mix-up was also highly distressed.

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"It gave me peace of mind to talk to her," Ms Van Dyke told KSTP-TV at the time. "She was just as distraught as me that this happened to her, and in the meantime, also didn't know where her baby was."

A statement released in 2012 by Allina Health System, operator of the hospital, said that standard procedures, which require staff to match codes on the baby and mother's identification bands, were not followed in this particular case.

On Monday, officials from Allina Health advised that a new electronic procedure has since been implemented.

"When the Mother Baby Center opened in February 2013, we began using electronic identification bands for the mother and infant that must be matched when returning the infant to the mother," said Michelle Smith, clinical program director. "This helps us to assure the identity of the infant and mother are matched each time."

In 2012, Ms Van Dyke received a letter of apology from Abbott Northwestern hospital, which acknowledged her son was placed in the wrong bassinet.

A similar case in a NSW hospital last year also saw a newborn baby breastfed by a stranger after staff confused the identities of two infants. NSW health authorities subsequently apologised to the two mothers affected, who gave birth at Gosford Hospital.

It was reported that identification bracelets on the babies were not cross-checked against the mother's name, leading to one baby being breastfeed for two hours - and having skin-to-skin contact - with the wrong woman.

At the time Central Coast Local Health District chief executive Matt Hanrahan described it as "very concerning" that the routine identification check had not taken place.

A statement issued by NSW Minister for Health in January 2016 confirmed that while the occurrence is rare, there had been a total of seven such mix-ups over the past four years in NSW hospitals.

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