SEPTEMBER 2008, Bankstown Hospital.
A drained and near hysterical expectant mother has made her way to the western Sydney facility for the fourth time since her contractions began four days ago, and it’s the first time she hasn’t been sent away.
Exhausted, she requests a caesarean only to be told that the theatre is too busy, and later that it is too late.
After five days of pain for his mum, baby Joseph is born but he’s yet to take his first breath as his umbilical cord is tied around his neck. He is quickly whisked away to the intensive care unit and later transferred to another hospital’s ICU before he is allowed to come home.
He suffers reflux and requires an operation, but it’s not until two months later that his mother and father are informed that he was deprived of oxygen at birth, and told by doctors he would have “delayed development”.
A Google search, rather than a doctor’s consultation, informs the parents a condition listed on Joseph’s patient chart could lead to “mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or delayed development”, or, “all of these problems”.
Almost eight years later, in a Supreme Court judgment over his parents’ compensation handed down last month, Joseph’s condition was detailed and so was his mother’s.
Joseph is living with cerebral palsy and requires around-the-clock care. He’s had about 50 years shaved off his life expectancy and is considered likely to live only to age 36.
He has limited communication, cannot speak, is incontinent, cannot walk, or control his limbs, has to be fed through a tube to his stomach and will require the constant care by others for his entire life.
His mother is unable to work and suffers a depressive condition resulting from the hospital’s negligence, the judgment says.
Her relationship with Joseph’s father, who has also suffered psychologically, has broken down and ended, and she has struggled financially and physically to care for her son.
On Monday, just weeks after the heart-rending descriptions in the judge’s decision were delivered, it was revealed a pair of babies born at the same hospital within the past two months had been denied oxygen.
Again, there was a delay in the parents being informed what had happened to their children.
Instead of being given oxygen the babies’ tiny lungs were pumped with a poisonous gas, nitrous oxide, because a wall unit to administer the gas was incorrectly installed.
The mother of a baby boy born on July 13 woke from anaesthesia to be told her Caesarian-born son had died, while parents of a baby girl, born in June, have been told their daughter will suffer significant brain damage and severe disabilities.
It was a week after the boy died, and up to a month after the girl was born that the parents were informed of the cause.
The first family’s pain is unimaginable — mourning a newborn while awaiting the result of investigations that are expected to point the blame at gas distribution company at the hospital where he was born.
The second family’s is just as difficult to comprehend, but if the similarities continue between baby Joseph and this baby girl that were apparent at the beginning of their lives, it will be incredibly tough.
Joseph’s mum’s birthing experience was horrific. Her then husband told a court she was left unattended and bleeding into a bucket after her son was born, her hospital room looking like a “disgusting scene from a horror movie”.
She was described as being in “excruciating pain” and “distressed about her unborn baby”, but it wasn’t going to get any better.
Her son was an unsettled baby, and not knowing fully about his condition his mother worried about his development, vision, and lack of mobility.
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at four months and told he would never walk.
He had regular seizures and had to be pulled from kindergarten after suffering a “swallowing disaster” and having to be fed through a tube.
He’s started school but has to have a lot of time off because of his illness.
He is described as “an engaging despite child being so profoundly injured”, but the work involved in his care by his mother, who has lost the support of his dad, was found by the judge to be “unarguably considerable and emotionally difficult”.
The Supreme Court judgment found the South Western Sydney Local Health District had breached a duty of care to Rosemary Sorbello, Joseph’s mother, and her then-husband, Sleiman Sultan. Joseph’s profound disability was found to be due to the hospital’s negligence, which deprived him of oxygen.
Another baby born at the hospital in 2014 suffered serious injuries after a portable device ran out of oxygen.
It is unknown if this child’s family was compensated, but NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said earlier this week she would be “extremely surprised if they were not”.
South Western Sydney Local Health District will again be investigated over the cases of the two children mistakenly given nitrous oxide instead of oxygen at Bankstown hospital.
Along with an internal investigation by NSW Health, the NSW Coroner will conduct an investigation as will BOC, the company that installed the gas tank.
It has been reported that homicide police and the NSW Child Death Review Team have been also been alerted to the baby boy’s death following the mix-up.
Ms Skinner has advised the hospital is safe and expecting mothers should not hesitate to be treated there.
She confirmed the parents of the baby boy will be awarded with a one-off compensation, and the family of the disabled baby girl will also be compensated.
But as baby Joseph and his mother’s story shows, the damage will continue to be felt.