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Hospital offers apology to family of mother and infant son who died in single room onsite

The inquest into Marie Downey’s death opened today at Cork Coroners’ Court.

CORK UNIVERSITY MATERNITY Hospital (CUMH) has apologised to the husband and family of a 36-year-old woman who died alongside her infant son in a single room onsite.

Mother-of-three Marie Downey, who lived in Knockanevin near Kildorrery, Co Cork, was found on the floor of her room in the hospital on the morning of 25 March 2019.

The native of Ballyagran in Co Limerick was due to be discharged with her baby Darragh in a matter of days.

One avenue of investigation was that she may have have had an epileptic seizure while breastfeeding the infant and collapsed on three day old Darragh who was found under her. 

She was pronounced dead at the scene whilst Darragh passed away the following evening.

Today, the inquest in to her death opened at Cork Coroners’ Court with much of the day being dominated by in-camera legal argument.

This afternoon, Conor Halpin SC for the HSE read out an apology to the family.

The apology was made on behalf of Professor John Higgins, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Clinical director of Ireland South Women and Infants Directorate at the South/Southwest Hospital Group.

He said that CUMH would like to sincerely apologise to Marie Downey’s husband, Kieran, their sons, James and Sean, and to her parents and family for the events that occurred while she and Darragh were under the care of CUMH “which resulted in the tragic loss of their lives”.

“We cannot possibly comprehend the devastating impact these losses have had on you and your family,” he said.

“We have carefully reviewed the management of Marie‘s case along with a formal external review of which you were part.

“We have taken a number of steps with the ultimate aim of ensuring the safety of our patients at all times in CUMH.

“On behalf of all the staff of CUMH especially those who were involved in care of Marie and baby Darragh we are truly sorry and wish to express our deepest sympathies.”

Oonagh McCrann SC, representing Obstetrician, Professor Keelin O’Donoghue, said her client wished to be associated with the HSE’s apology.

“She would like to express her deepest regret and sadness at the death of the late Mrs Downey and baby Darragh and indeed I would also like on my own behalf, and on behalf of my solicitor Justine Sayers to express our deepest sympathy for the terrible tragedy.

Dr John O’Mahony, SC, on behalf of the Downey family, said they accepted the apology and he thanked the “makers of the apology.” However, he admitted they did so with certain concerns and reservations.

“However, it should be clear that the ‘trampassing’ of transparency by the HSE is something that we’re all familiar with. It’s such a pity and I have to express the view that transparency has not been visited on this enquiry. ”

Doireann O’Mahony, BL, representing the family said that the Downey family had endured a “prolonged grieving process” and that the hearing of the case was supposed to be a “milestone” for them.

She asked that the inquest be adjourned for a particular date.

“The Downeys and the Cullinanes (Marie’s family) have waited two years for this. It was meant to go ahead last November. We don’t want another ‘for mention’ date. This family want answers. They appreciate the apology. They want answers and they want them in a timely manner.”

Cork City Coroner Phiip Comyn said that he understood the pain suffered by the family and would do everything in his power to ensure that the case was heard before Christmas.

He added that he was sensitive to their anxiety about hearing the case in as timely a manner as possible.

Widower Kieran Downey briefly addressed the court saying that the family had been through “two and half years of pain.”

Following the tragedy then Minister for Health Simon Harris ordered an independent review in to the deaths which was carried out by Dr Peter McKenna. Dr McKenna is the head of the HSE Woman and Infant Health Programme. Following in camera legal submissions it was deemed that the report was not admissible.

Another review in to the deaths was carried out by the HSE South/South West Hospital Group which includes the CUMH.

The inquest has been listed for mention on 23 September to fix a date for hearing. A neurological report will also be prepared.

Meanwhile, at her funeral mass in St Michael’s Church in Ballyagran, Kieran Downey said that his wife a “a beautiful person, both inside and out”.

“She had a heart of gold. She always put us first.
“Herself and Darragh are our special angels now.
“Our first dance at our wedding was to ‘We Have Only Just Begun’ – and we had only just begun. We love you Marie and Darragh.”

He placed a crucifix and bible on his wife and son’s coffin. He thanked all those who had offered “great comfort and support” in the wake of the tragedy.

The mother-of-three, who was a popular employee of Novartis in Cork, was a huge fan of GAA. Four GAA jerseys from Ballyagran, Kildorrery, Douglas and Limerick were brought to the altar as offertory gifts.

Also offered was a photo taken in hospital when Darragh met his two big brothers for the first time. A handbag symbolising her love of shopping was also among the gifts.

Mother and son were buried at Castletown Cemetery in Co Limerick following their joint funeral mass.

Olivia Kelleher