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11 Oct, 2007 06:57

Mother's nightmare reveals horror of maternity wards

“A nurse came over, and told me the baby was dead. She took a plastic bag that once had shoes in it, and put him inside. I was handed the bag, and then I heard a baby cry”.

Hospital officials in the city of Chelyabinsk in the Urals are investigating how a newborn baby was pronounced dead despite being alive. The baby later died after two days in intensive care, but the incident highlights the serious problems facing Russia's maternity centres.

The health watchdog has found severe violations in more than one in eight cases.

As authorities strive to improve the situation, the dead baby's family is trying to find justice.

The day Svetlana Urasova gave birth to her son will haunt her for the rest of her life. Her longed-for baby was pronounced dead by mistake.

Svetlana was six months pregnant when she arrived at the maternity ward with stomach pains. A few hours later doctors told her there was no chance her baby could be saved.  

She was sent to a delivery room to give birth on her own.

“I was there alone. No other patients or doctors around at all. And I couldn’t even scream while I was giving birth. Only when it was almost all finished I was able to call for help. A nurse came over, and told me the baby was dead. She then took a plastic bag that once had shoes in it, and put him inside. Afterwards when I was recovering I was told several times that the baby had been stillborn,” said Svetlana.  

The prosecutor’s office is currently investigating at what point the doctors verified the death.  

“The nurse didn’t detect any primary signs of life, so gave the baby’s body back to the parents for burial. He came to life after that,” said a prosecutor.  

The child began to cry as his parents clutched the plastic bag.

“I was handed the bag, and then I heard a baby cry. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do, and put it on the bench. I was so shocked I cried,” recalls Svetlana.   

The parents talked the doctors into putting the baby into intensive care where the boy fought for life for two days.

After an internal hospital investigation, the doctor and the nurse were officially reprimanded.

However, the head doctor blames the death of the baby boy on the parents’ carelessness during pregnancy, saying the mother was too late in seeking medical help during her pregnancy.  

They also say it was impossible to save the newborn weighing just 460 grammes.

The only thing doctors agree on is that ethical norms were violated. They say doctors were too hasty in delivering him for burial.

“Svetlana’s foetus was unviable judging by his size and weight. He wasn’t breathing, nor moving in the beginning. He must have warmed up when covered in plastic and came to life after that,” said Anna Starodumove, the head doctor.  

The mother, however, says the baby weighed 600 grammes. And Chelyabinsk premature baby unit has kept such tiny babies alive.  

Svetlana had been trying to get pregnant for a while, and says she was under medical supervision from her eighth week.

Police are now examining whether the baby could have been saved.  

The birth rate in the region is one of the lowest in the Urals. However, Svetlana’s baby doesn’t make it into the statistics.

As far as the medics are concerned he was never a baby – only a foetus.