Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Abortion dilemma in Republic as husband speaks of his agony over wife's death

Savita Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia

The heartbroken husband of Savita Halappanavar has spoken of his torment at the loss of his wife and the unborn daughter she had already named.

An international storm has erupted over abortion laws here after the death of Mrs Halappanavar (31) from septicaemia a week after she began to miscarry and asked for a termination at University College Hospital in Galway.

Speaking from her hometown of Belgaum, in southwest India, her husband, Praveen (34) said:

  • His wife had already chosen a name -- 'Prasa', a combination of Praveen and Savita -- for the baby girl she had longed for. They learnt she had been expecting a baby girl after losing the child.
  • In his last conversation with his wife in the ICU, she asked him to check her parents had arrived back in India safely, after paying a happy visit to the couple in Galway.
  • He believes his wife would still be alive if a medical termination had been carried out, as she had repeatedly requested.
  • How, even as her condition deteriorated, he believed she would pull through as she was "full of life" and a "tough person".
  • Their entire family are questioning how such a death could occur in 21st Century Ireland.
  • How she asked a number of times for a medical termination to be carried out after a doctor found her foetus would not survive.

Mr Halappanavar, an engineer with Boston Scientific in Galway, brought Savita's remains home to her elderly parents in India, where she was cremated.

But he plans to return to Ireland in the coming days to put pressure on the "whole system and change the law".

The devastated engineer told how he wants to ensure no other family ever has to endure their devastating loss.

Pressure continued to grow last night as more than 1,000 people staged a demonstration outside the Dail, with more gathering outside the Irish embassy in London.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore vowed the Government would take action to provide "legal certainty and legal clarity" on abortion in the wake of the tragedy.

But the Coalition is at odds over the issue of abortion, with Labour TDs demanding legislation and Fine Gael TDs saying they would wait to see a report from an expert group.

The HSE national incident management team confirmed it would interview Mr Halappanavar as part of its review of his wife's death.

And staff at the hospital were interviewed yesterday as the internal investigation being carried out after the death stepped up a gear.

It is understood one of the areas the hospital Risk Review Group will be examining is the experience of the consultant who dealt with the case.

Staffing levels at the Galway hospital's maternity unit during Mrs Halappanavar's stay, including the bank holiday weekend, were normal, according to a hospital spokesman.

Meanwhile, Mr Halappanavar said the entire family, many of whom are medical professionals, were questioning how this death could occur in a hospital in the 21st Century in Ireland.

"We had heard Ireland was a good place to have a baby. Most of our friends there had babies there and they're all fine and so we decided: Have a baby in Ireland."

He added: "You wouldn't have thought about it. How could they leave a womb open for two days?"

"The chance of infection is really high and they could have terminated. The way people think here (in India) is different -- they are not able to accept the fact it is just a Catholic thing."

Mr Halappanavar painted a happy picture of the days before his wife was admitted to hospital.

"Everything was normal. We were told she was perfectly all right," he said, and they were happily awaiting their first child's arrival in late March.

"Savita was on top of the world. We were so excited and always talking about the baby."

They threw a small baby shower for his wife, her friends and her mother, who was visiting Ireland on Saturday, October 20, the night before she was hospitalised.

"She was fine. She was just so happy," he said. He described his wife as a woman who was full of life and a wonderful Bollywood dancer who enjoyed teaching children her dance moves.

Mrs Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she arrived at the hospital on October 21 complaining of back pain.

The couple were then told the baby would not survive, as her cervix was already dilating and she was miscarrying.

However, it was not until Wednesday, October 24 that the foetal heartbeat stopped and the foetus was removed.

Mrs Halappanavar's condition continued to deteriorate and she died from septiciaemia at 1.10am on Sunday October 28 -- a week after being admitted.

Her husband told how they "kept on pushing" medics to carry out a medical abortion. However, they were told it was a Catholic country and it was against regulations.

Asked if he thought his wife would be alive if a termination had been carried out, Mr Halappanavar replied: "Yes. Of course, she was a very strong person."

Her mother Akkamahdevi, and her elderly father Andaneepa who has undergone a heart bypass operation, have been left devastated.

Pregnancy was shared with family just days earlier

By Caroline Crawford

Just three days before she was rushed to hospital Savita Halappanavar had told friends and family that she was expecting a baby girl, a friend has revealed.

She and her husband Praveen had only told their family about the pregnancy and had celebrated with a small gathering in the family home at Roscam, Co Galway.

Her parents had been with their only daughter, on a holiday from their home in India, and returned home the day before Savita became ill.

" They were so delighted to be having their first baby," said Harshad Holehonnur, a close friend of the couple told the Irish Independent.

The young woman had also been "ecstatic" to discover she was having a baby girl, her devastated friend added.

"Savita was the youngest in her family. She had two elder brothers but was the only girl. She was longing to have a girl and had found out that she was having a girl," Mr Holehonnur said.

A close friend of Savita's, Sunil Koppuri, recalled how she was over the moon to be expecting her own child. "She just loved kids and she would call to my home every alternate day to see my children. Every time she went abroad she would bring something back for them. She would teach my daughter Chetana how to dance," Ms Koppuri recalled.

"She was more Irish and more Galwegian than many people here," said friend Ashietosh Waidande. "They loved living here."

Members of the Indian community in Galway spoke touchingly of Savita's deep love of dance.

"She wasn't planning on dancing this year because of the baby but she had put together the whole dance for others," said Mr Waidande, a member of the Indian Community Group.

"She had been out collecting and calling on the community, making sure they came along," he added. After her tragic death the celebrations were cancelled as a mark of respect.

After Savita's passing the Indian community in Galway, Dublin and Athenry rallied around to help Praveen. Friends of Savita's gathered in Galway for a small memorial service at Mervue Church before her remains were flown home.



Community mourns friendly, family-loving woman

She was a devout Hindu -- yet even the local Catholic priest became aware of Savita Halappanavar in the weeks before her tragic death.

A classical Indian dancer, she had volunteered her services to teach children for a multi-cultural event in the Galway suburb of Roscam, where she had put down firm roots.

The beautiful, energetic Indian woman with the smiling eyes and her husband Praveen had planned on seeking Irish citizenship.

The couple had arrived in Galway from their native India in 2008 soon after their marriage. And they planned to be here forever -- to raise their family and to grow old together in this country that was so far from the home they first knew.

"They loved living here," a friend said.

"I never saw her sad," another added. "Savita was always very bubbly -- always smiling. She was a good friend. She was a very good person." She was a very good organiser and a "normal" person who liked normal things, he revealed.

As friends grappled to come to terms with her wholly unexpected and shocking death, they told how Savita (31) was at a very happy time in her life.

She had found out that she was expecting a girl and as the only girl in her own family, with two older brothers, she was over the moon at the prospect of a little daughter.

Things were going well for the couple.

Praveen had solid work as an engineer at Boston Scientific and Savita had achieved her dental exams, which meant her qualifications were recognised in Ireland, but had recently given up her work in a dental practice since finding out that she was pregnant.

"She was in a very good moment of her life -- she was settling down," a close friend and dental associate said.

"This was what she wanted -- she loved children and she always loved treating young patients. She had a good way with them."

Savita had "transformed" the Diwali celebrations for the Galway community, said friend Sunil Koppuri.

"The Indian community would gather together for some music or food but once Savita came into the community she started to train the kids how to dance and the traditional celebrations. She will definitely be missed," she added.

Praveen often videod the Diwali celebrations, proudly capturing images of his pretty wife as she showed off her skills.

However, sometimes he was pulled in front of camera to take part in the pieces Savita had choreographed. At the 2010 Diwali celebrations, the pair danced the Zor Ka Zhatkha.

The recent visit of Savita's parents had been a source of great joy for this family-loving young woman.

They had spent three months in Galway with the couple and when they found out about the pregnancy, even left clothes behind so that they could travel lighter for the next planned visit in March -- when they expected to meet their new granddaughter.

"She was a lovely person by all accounts," said Fr Martin Glynn of the Good Shepherd parish close to Savita's home.

The picture painted of this happy, family-orientated young woman betrayed no hint that Savita might go on to become the central figurehead in a renewed debate about abortion.

A Hindu dentist working in Galway who was a good friend stressed that Savita would have been aware of what was happening to her in the hospital. "She was not a lay person. She knew what was happening. She died in a hospital -- not at home. This should not have happened."

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz