COVER STORY

In search of justice

DSC_7832 In mourning: Ashish Kumar with wife Varsha | Aayush Goel

A family's fight for their baby who was erroneously declared dead

Our babies were precious,” says Ashish Kumar, father of the twin babies born at Delhi's Max Super Speciality Hospital in Shalimar Bagh on November 30. Kumar, 25, says his wife Varsha had conceived after three years of marriage, and the entire family had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of its newest members.

The atmosphere of joyous anticipation, however, soon turned into one of trauma and gloom. The day before Varsha gave birth to the twins, she had been unwell and was taken to Max hospital. “Doctors had told us that my wife was in danger, and that they would have to take the babies out immediately,” says Ashish. Seven to eight injections worth Rs 35,000 were also prescribed to raise the survival chances of the babies.

The turn of events after Varsha's delivery—the birth of the twins, one a stillborn, and the other, a boy, showing signs of life but wrongly declared dead initially—led to a huge furore over the conduct of private hospitals and the rising instances of medical negligence.

Ashish claims the doctors at Max hospital declared the boy dead only because the family had refused their suggestion of keeping the baby in the hospital's nursery for about three months, for which the hospital estimated a cost of “050 lakh”. “I could not have afforded that. I refused, and I suspect that is why they declared the baby dead,” he says. The babies, born preterm at 22 weeks, were wrapped in polythene bags and handed over to the family. On their way to the cremation ground, the family noticed movement in the boy's body, and rushed him to another private hospital in Pitampura.

After five days on life support, the boy died. “The doctors at this hospital told us that had the baby been treated properly at Max hospital, he would have been alive today,” says Ashish, who sells water purifiers at his shop in Nangloi. “Max hospital was careless with the baby. If you wrap an adult, forget a baby, in a polythene bag, that person is sure to suffocate to death.”

The subsequent outrage led to an inquiry by a three-member committee set up by the Delhi government. In its report, the committee held Max hospital guilty, and the hospital's licence was cancelled with “immediate effect”. An FIR has also been registered. Ashish says the family is hopeful that justice will be done. “I know that the babies can't come back now, whatever we do. But at least hospitals will be careful in such matters,” he says.

Even as the family was dealing with the loss of the babies, they kept protesting outside the hospital. The cancellation of the hospital's licence and the investigation of the case by the Crime Branch has given them hope. Ashish says the government should have stepped in when his baby had been discovered alive and got him admitted to a better hospital. “But now, the government has done what it could in this matter,” he says. “We are satisfied now, and even went to thank the Delhi chief minister and the health minister.”

With time, life is also limping back to normal. Varsha is back home—the family did not allow the hospital to discharge her for close to a week after her delivery to “keep the pressure on”—and has been recovering from the trauma. “All these days, she had been inconsolable,” says Ashish. “It was difficult for me to face her. But I know she is recovering now.”

Max hospital, meanwhile, reopened after the Court of the Financial Commissioner stayed the Delhi government's cancellation order. It, however, faced fresh charges of negligence from the family of a 58-year-old man who was admitted to the hospital for the treatment of a heart condition.

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