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A mother and child die in Auckland in birth tragedy, grieving husband pleads for investigation

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Sharetha Mibigama’s wife, Nilakshani Silva, died in childbirth, and baby Ileana died four days later. The attached photo

A father who lost his wife in childbirth and their newborn daughter four days later is demanding an investigation into their untimely deaths.

Speaking exclusively to the Weekend Herald, Charitha Meepegama said his wife Nilakshani (Nishi) Silva underwent an emergency C-section in an ambulance on Saturday morning and died shortly thereafter.

The couple’s daughter, Eliana, was rushed to an Auckland hospital but her grieving father made the agonizing decision to turn off life support four days later.

I want some answers, Mibijama said. “I don’t know what to do or how to move forward. My whole life has been completely wiped out.”

Last Friday, as the couple prepared for the arrival of their expected baby the next day at an Auckland hospital, they chatted about what she would look like and how she would grow up. They were happy and looked forward to having their “little family”.

Charitha Meepegama's wife, Nilakshani Silva, died in childbirth and baby Eliana died four days later.  Photo/ Alex Burton
Charitha Meepegama’s wife, Nilakshani Silva, died in childbirth and baby Eliana died four days later. Photo/ Alex Burton

“We were so excited, we saved all our money to buy a crib, stroller, baby clothes – all good quality stuff. We were so happy. That was the last conversation we had.”

After listening to “Mother Mary’s Prayer,” the couple went to bed at 10:30 p.m.

An hour later, Mibigama heard his wife, 34, struggling to breathe.

“I heard some noises – she was in pain and having trouble breathing, so I called 111. St John’s ambulance arrived after midnight and put Nishi on the floor and tried to help her breathing.”

Meepegama, the IT technician, also called Silva’s midwife and texted her to say she was having breathing difficulties but the midwife did not respond.

Silva’s health rapidly deteriorated, so paramedics took her to Auckland Hospital in an ambulance. But they did not go away. It is understood that first responders performed an emergency caesarean section and Eliana delivered in the ambulance.

Baby Eliana died four days after her birth when her father made the agonizing decision to turn off life support.  The attached photo
Baby Eliana died four days after her birth when her father made the agonizing decision to turn off life support. The attached photo

“Doctors told me Nishi died of a blood clot. I don’t understand it, Nishi was healthy and had no problems during pregnancy. In the ambulance they were saying her heart was working and then stopped, that’s why to give birth to the baby then and there. I feel sad because I wasn’t with Nishi when she died, I was so upset that I couldn’t even think.”

Glenn Metcalfe, director of operations for the St. John’s Oakland area, said in a statement that employees received 111 calls at 12:30 a.m. Saturday due to a “medical incident” at Mount Wellington. Two ambulances, two rapid response units and a manager responded.

“The crew treated and transported two critically ill patients to Auckland City Hospital.

“Due to patient privacy, we cannot comment on the details of the care provided to patients.”

The coroner’s office confirmed Silva’s death near her home in Mount Wellington at 4.58 am on Saturday.

Mipijama wonders why Silva’s midwife advised her to give birth naturally.

“At the 38th week, Nishi asked for a C-section from the midwife. I offered to pay for it but the midwife said ‘no.’ She said, ‘everything was normal’ and they don’t do a C-section unless there are complications with the pregnancy.”

Mibigama said the midwife was in shock.

“She didn’t apologize – she didn’t say anything. I told her that in my opinion, if my wife had had a C-section earlier, she would be alive.”

The midwife, who the Weekend Herald chose not to name, offered her condolences but declined to comment further. It is understood that she was not an employee of the Auckland hospital.

Charitha Meepegama demands answers after his wife Nilakshani Silva died in childbirth and baby Eliana died four days later.  The attached photo
Charitha Meepegama demands answers after his wife Nilakshani Silva died in childbirth and baby Eliana died four days later. The attached photo

Dr Mike Shepherd, director of Auckland Hospital Provider Services, said in a statement that he could not comment on the specifics of individual patient care for ethical and privacy reasons.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the Nilakshani family and their baby girl Ileana and we extend our condolences to them.

“There is always a small risk of complications during pregnancy. And when complications do occur, we understand how difficult it can be for families.

“While we are conducting an investigation and do not want to pre-empt results, it appears at this point that all appropriate clinical guidelines have been followed in the care of Nilakshani and baby Eliana.”

Shepherd said patient safety and quality of care are a top priority.

“We encourage whānau to speak to us directly if they have questions about the care of a loved one, or to contact the Health and Disability Commissioner for an independent review.”

Neelakshani Silva was due to give birth the next day at Auckland Hospital.  The attached photo
Neelakshani Silva was due to give birth the next day at Auckland Hospital. The attached photo

Meepegama is finally able to meet baby Eliana after a priest gives his blessing to Silva.

“When I saw Eliana, my heart melted, she was as beautiful as her mother. I feel robbed because she is not here to hold Eliana.

“The doctor said her brain was damaged and she was deprived of oxygen when her mother’s heart stopped. The doctor told me there was no point in keeping her alive with a machine because her heart and brain weren’t working.

“She had all these tubes all over the place and couldn’t breathe on her own so I thought it was best to be with her mom.”

Meepegama met Silva in Sri Lanka in 2009 and she said she was an instant attraction.

“She had beautiful long hair, she was kind, open-minded and trustworthy.”

The couple married a year later and came to New Zealand four years ago. Silva studied in New Zealand and worked as an administrator for a sheet metal company. They were planning to apply for permanent residence and save for a new home.

Mibijama said he is now “completely alone” and cannot bear to go home.

Today, mass is held at Saint Therese Catholic Church on Mount Albert. Both mother and child will be buried together.

“I am very angry and I am really concerned about the health system in New Zealand,” said Mibijama.

“I can never go home, it’s so painful. I’m so upset my life has been wiped out. It was my life and now I have no one.”

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