Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Widower claims inquest 'cover-up'

Tragedy: Dhara and Michael Kivlehan. She died of organ failure
Dhara Kivlehan, 28, died from multi-organ failure in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital on September 28 2010
Michael Kivlehan, the widower of Dhara Kivlehan
Michael Kivlehan, the widower of Dhara Kivlehan

The widower of an Indian woman who died four days after giving birth to her son has alleged a cover-up over plans for a long-awaited inquest into her death.

Dhara Kivlehan, 28, died from multi-organ failure in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital on September 28 2010 after suffering a severe strain of pre-eclampsia and being airlifted from Sligo General.

Her husband Michael arrived at Carrick-on-Shannon courthouse an hour into a heated hearing on witnesses despite earlier telling his lawyers that he was too upset to attend.

The 34-year-old - a single father to three-year-old Dior - launched a broadside from the public gallery after Coroner Eamon MacGowan offered to review the witness list but refused to commit to adding to the six names.

"It's a bloody cover-up. A cover-up. My wife was Indian," Mr Kivlehan said.

"I'm last on the list (of witnesses). Why is that? You don't want me to address the press here.

"I will not stand for this. It's a cover-up. Shame on you."

Mr Kivlehan, dressed in a suit but appearing drawn and visibly upset, added: "I'm very lucky that I turned up here today because of the state of my health."

The widower's parents Michael senior and Susan, who were in court for all of the proceedings, hurried him from the room.

The Kivlehan family have been in dispute with the coroner after he offered to hear evidence from six witnesses - two doctors from Sligo, two doctors from the Royal in Belfast, Mr Kivlehan and Dr Peter Boylan, the former Master of Holles St and a consultant obstretrician.

The Kivlehans said they want to see the coroner adopt the approach taken by Belfast Coroner Dr John Leckey, who had suggested 24 witnesses give evidence when the inquiry into the young mother's death was opened in Northern Ireland.

Dr Boylan gave evidence as an expert witness in the inquest into the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, who died in hospital in Galway in October 2012 after suffering a miscarriage and blood poisoning.

The deaths and care of the two Indian women in Irish hospitals have drawn parallels.

Lawyers for Mr Kivlehan told the coroner his decision to call only six witnesses was bewildering and they threatened to challenge the decision in the High Court in Dublin.

"To say that the Kivlehan family are stunned and sickened by what they see as an extraordinarily restrictive approach on your part is in the nature of an understatement," solicitor Damien Tansey told the coroner.

"We empathise fully with the family's dismay and, in fact, share it. The approach that you have adopted has no basis in either law or logic."

The hearing was moved to the Republic amid concerns that medics from Sligo could not be compelled north of the border and after Attorney General Maire Whelan wrote to Dr Leckey to ask if he would agree to a change in jurisdiction.

Mrs Kivlehan's inquest is due for a full hearing from September 22 in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Her widower Michael and their son were awarded almost one million euro (£790,000) damages late last year after the Health Service Executive apologised for shortcomings in the young mother's care.

The couple met in London in 2002 where Dhara was studying fashion and Michael was working.

They moved to Co Leitrim and married in 2005. They planned to bring up a family where Michael was reared.

Mrs Kivlehan was suffering from a severe variant of pre-eclampsia called Hellp (Haemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes and Low Platelets) when she was airlifted to Belfast.

The inquest heard today that a witness will state that medics in Sligo said "it's only a matter of time" when she was being transferred into a air ambulance for treatment in the Royal.

Mr Tansey also said the Kivlehans are considering asking Dr Leckey to reopen the inquest in Belfast.

"The inquest the Kivlehans have waited four years for will be exhaustive and will be fulsome and will be thorough," he said.

"If there's an attempt to truncate the inquest or reduce it to a level that does not meet these requirements, the Kivlehans will be unhappy and take their unhappiness elsewhere."

He added: "The family are so concerned about the inquiry that is about to be embarked on, they are so concerned about its lack of thoroughness, its lack of comprehensiveness, they may well withdraw their request that the inquest happen."

The hearing heard there were 12 doctors and seven midwives involved in Mrs Kivlehan's care in Sligo, as well as the doctors and nurses in Belfast.

Mr Tansey accused the coroner of completely refusing to hear from more than one expert witness.

"This is to deprive unduly the jury of a valuable resource. With respect, you are behaving in an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable manner," he said.

Mr Tansey went on to accuse the coroner of shutting down the inquest and claimed the limited witnesses would cause additional distress to the Kivlehans.

He said: "How Dhara was allowed to develop Hellp Syndrome and how she was allowed to lie in Sligo General for four days before the true gravity of her situation was appreciated are questions of the utmost importance to the Kivlehan family and cannot be answered and addressed accurately by the mere six witnesses whom you have identified."

Mr McGowan will give his decision in three weeks.

"The list of witnesses is reviewable and it will be reviewed by me up or down. I might add... my hope is to be reasonable to the parties," the coroner said.

The family's lawyers also sought a series of answers from the coroner on preparations he has made for the hearing including what medical files he has sought from the Health Service Executive.

Mr Tansey said it was essential to have the notes and charts used by nurses and midwives.

The lawyers also sought information on whether an adverse event investigation was carried out by the HSE, which they claim would have been completed following Mrs Kivlehan's care.

The HSE will also be asked to reveal protocols in relation to treatment of pre-eclampsia and any other report that may be have been compiled on the death.

Mrs Kivlehan was two weeks over her due date when she arrived at Sligo General Hospital on September 20 in labour.

However the results of blood tests taken that afternoon - which showed "grossly abnormal liver function and grossly abnormal kidney function" - were not followed up by her doctors or reported back by the lab for another 12 hours.

Her baby son, Dior, was delivered by C section shortly before 6am the following morning.

The hearing was told two doctors in Sligo agreed that the emergency procedure should be carried to deliver the baby and then Mrs Kivlehan should be treated in intensive care.

The civil action last year heard she was instead transferred to a side room off the maternity ward for a day and a half with no specialist care before being moved to ICU.

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