Long battle to learn the truth about Ariana's birth

Cerise and Tim Lawn, with their daughter Ariana, hope that telling their story will make a lasting change to the level ...
Cerise and Tim Lawn, with their daughter Ariana, hope that telling their story will make a lasting change to the level of care provided to pregnant women and new mums. 

Ariana Grace Lawn was born pale, floppy and covered in meconium.

It took about seven minutes before the baby took her first breath, and she now suffers from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, seizures and other developmental disabilities.

She is now two years old and wakes in pain numerous times every night. She's tube-fed and requires a walker to get around, and her mother, Cerise, has resuscitated her three times since her birth.

And it all could have been avoided.

Cerise, 23, and husband Tim, 31, from New Zealand, have fought to find out how a healthy pregnancy turned into a nightmare birth in January 2012, and why their daughter now suffers from disabilities she shouldn't have.

In June 2012 they laid a complaint with the Taranaki District Health Board, but weren't happy with the response they received. The board took very little responsibility for Ariana's illnesses, and blamed it on group B streptococcus (GBS), a bacterial infection many pregnant mothers carry.

"I think they thought they could sweep it under the rug, I don't think they knew how strong we were," Cerise told the Taranaki Daily News.

After advice from friends and doctors, the couple took their complaint to the health and disability commissioner.

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This week commissioner Anthony Hill issued the findings of an investigation into Ariana's birth, condemning the board, the obstetrician and the midwife involved.

In response, board chief medical adviser Greg Simmons apologised to the Lawn family for the mistakes made at Ariana's birth. "It's been an emotional and upsetting time for all involved," he said.

"We deeply regret the part that our actions played two years ago in Ariana's birth. Regrettably, we strive to provide high quality care but clearly we let the Lawn family down on this occasion and we are very sorry for the pain that has caused them."

As required by the commissioner, the obstetrician and midwife will now be referred to their professional bodies to see if further action will be taken against them.

The commissioner's report found the midwife failed to react to signs of foetal distress, including the presence of meconium, despite the couple raising concerns with her.

Other signs were not picked up and Cerise did not receive the antibiotics she should have had.

It found the obstetrician wrongly assumed she wanted little intervention. He rejected an emergency caesarean so he didn't have to wake staff and ruled out the use of forceps.

The investigation found his attempt to resuscitate Ariana was inappropriate and he delayed calling the neonatal unit, agreeing only once the midwife had asked three times.

The midwife said she waited for approval before calling because she'd been scolded by the obstetrician before.

Tim and Cerise said waiting more than two years for the hospital to admit responsibility and apologise had been the hardest thing to deal with. "They only apologised after the commissioner's report came out," Tim said.

Simmons said the board wanted to assure the community it had learnt from the mistakes made.

"We have come a long way in the last two years. We're still continuing to work with the Lawn family over a range of further initiatives and improvements but have made significant improvements since January 2012."

The couple hoped their fight would not be in vain and although satisfied with the changes, they said they would keep an eye on the health board.

The pair encouraged families with similar stories to seek help, and pointed expectant parents to aim.org.nz.

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