5-week-old girl dies at home in mother's arms while hospital over capacity

​Hours after an appointment with her doctor, five-week-old Blayke Hay-McAllister died in her mother's arms at her Miramichi, N.B., home, tiny fingers wrapped around her mother's hand.

New Brunswick mom seeking answers after infant daughter dies with respiratory virus

Tessa McAllister and Codey Hay believe their daughter Blayke could have been saved had she been admitted to the Miramichi Regional Hospital. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

​Hours after an appointment with her doctor, five-week-old Blayke Hay-McAllister died in her mother's arms at her Miramichi, N.B., home, with tiny fingers wrapped around her mother's hand.

"I was rubbing [her hand] and it felt colder than normal, and I panicked," said 34-year-old Tessa McAllister.

"I scooped her up and I bawled and I ran … and I dropped. 'Please God. No, please God.' And I was saying the 'Hail Marys' and I was saying the 'Our Fathers.' I was saying every prayer I've ever been taught. And I covered her tighter and I called 911 even though I wanted to call my mom."

But Blayke was dead.

And McAllister believes her daughter might be alive if she'd been admitted to Miramichi Regional Hospital.

Blayke Hay-McAllister died at home at only five weeks old. (Tessa McAllister)

Through her grief, she is looking for answers to why she kept being told to take her baby home.

On Jan. 30, swabs were collected, and on Jan. 31, two days before Blayke died, McAllister said she took the swabs to the hospital for analysis and Blayke had chest X-rays. She was positive for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

The virus is a common cold among older children and adults, but for an infant can be dangerous. The results were sent to the family doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Hans, the next day.

By that time, according to McAllister, Blayke had been sick for about three weeks and had been seen at least five times  by Hans or another doctor, who sent her home.

Flu bug in ER

McAllister said that on Feb.1, after being told the test results, she insisted her daughter be admitted to hospital.

"My baby's sick and I don't think I can do it," she remembers thinking. "So I went and I said that. 'I don't think I can take care of her at home.'"

She said Hans called the Miramichi hospital about admitting Blayke but was told the hospital was 20 per cent over capacity.

"He called the hospital with me in the room, and the hospital said there was no room — for my dying baby. Dr. Hans said, 'I'm going to discuss options with mommy and I'll call you back.'"

Holding my dead daughter … I'll never get that picture out of my head.- Tessa McAllister

Hans told her the emergency department was full of flu patients and she would need to go through the ER to gain admittance, McAllister said, and he didn't think that was the proper course of action.

He told her to bring her baby back to his office the next day at 11 a.m., McAllister said.

"He was my doctor for 34 years and I trusted him," she said.

"They told him there was no room for her. So I trusted she would make it through the night."

Again, she took Blayke home.

Around 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. on Feb. 2, McAllister dozed off.

Lately, she had been lying next to Blayke, with the baby on her side or upright on McAllister​'s shoulder, so she could tap Blayke's back and wipe away mucus.

That morning, Blayke slept in her arms, holding on to McAllister's hand as she usually did.

Blayke, on Feb. 1, after her mom tried to get her admitted to hospital earlier in the day. Her parents say the infant's suffering was apparent and she was struggling to breathe. (Tessa McAllister)

McAllister woke up when she felt the cold in her daughter's hand. She called for help, stayed on the phone and performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

But she knew it was already too late.

"Holding my dead daughter … I'll never get that picture out of my head," said McAllister.

"I'll never forgive myself for falling asleep. Because what if she did make a little tiny noise? That's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life."

The ambulance arrived five hours before Blayke was to return to the doctor's office.

Only got worse

McAllister first began noticing something wrong with Blayke when she was two weeks old. The baby was coughing and phlegmy and had raspy breathing.

Initially, she was told her daughter's breathing trouble was due to mucus left in her system, because the baby had been delivered by C-section. When the problem persisted, she was told it was a common cold and would clear itself up.

But it only got worse.

Following an appointment Jan. 30, Hans sent a request to the pediatrics department at the hospital that said the baby "seems to be having colic."

"She is currently quite congested and coughing with thick mucus," Hans said. "Could these symptoms be compatible with cystic fibrosis? Anyway, I'd appreciate it if you would assess this infant for me and make sure there is nothing I'm missing."

According to McAllister, Blayke was a small but healthy baby. (Tessa McAllister)

McAllister said the baby's suffering was apparent all the time she sought medical help.

"She was struggling to breathe," the mother said.

The family is awaiting autopsy results, which will give the exact cause of death. 

McAllister has asked the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick to look into the case.

More questions than answers

She also asked for a meeting with hospital officials.

But the meeting with Marilyn Underhill, the hospital's executive director, and Dr. Michael Hayden, the hospital's chief of staff, one month after the baby's death, left McAllister and Blayke's father, Codey Hay, with more questions than answers.

"It's been one month since and not one answer," Hay said.

McAllister and Hay left a meeting with hospital officials without any of the answers they were looking to get. (CBC)

"Somebody didn't do their job at the hospital," McAllister said.

"And the blame isn't just on the hospital. It's on the doctor who should have fought to have her admitted.

"We're struggling. We're struggling as a young family. We got three other little girls at home, and they're wondering when their baby sister is coming home. It's hard to explain."

Always room, hospital says

The hospital is investigating, but in an email to CBC News, Underhill said the safety of patients is paramount to the hospital.

"It will always provide a bed and care for patients that are admitted by a physician or through the emergency department, including when our facilities are in over capacity," said Underhill.

"Miramichi Regional Hospital faces overcrowding conditions from time to time with increases due to flu or other ailments.

"Patients needing care will not be turned away."

McAllister is not the only young parent in Miramichi to have struggled with access to health care for an infant with RSV.

Mallory Stewart came close to losing her two-month-old son Karsen last year.

Earlier case 11 months ago

"It's been 11 months since we were faced with one of the hardest things we have ever had to go through," Stewart posted on Facebook.

"Eleven months since the Miramichi hospital neglected my child, sending us home numerous times when he was so so sick. Eleven months since they were the reason Karsen almost died.

Officials at the Miramichi Regional Hospital said it would always provide a bed for a patient needing one, even when over capacity. (CBC)

"It shatters my heart as we learn that only 11 months later this has happened to another family."

Stewart says Karsen was given little treatment at Miramichi Regional, with staff telling the family things would get better on their own.

Stewart said a swab for RSV was taken on their first visit to the ER. They learned it was positive on the second visit, but they were still sent home again. 

It wasn't until the third visit that their son was admitted.

Stewart believes it's only because she demanded her son be airlifted to the IWK in Halifax that he is still alive today.

Doctors in Halifax found one of the baby's lungs had partially collapsed, Stewart said.

Will continue to fight

"He was intubated and sedated for six days and he had a feeding tube the whole time," she said.

"I refuse to sit back and watch this hospital destroy any more families," Stewart wrote on Facebook. "When is something going to be done about it?"  

Mallory Stewart stands by her two-month-old son at the IWK in Halifax, where he was treated for a partially collapsed lung and RSV. (Mallory Stewart)

There are many young children in McAllister's family. Among them, she and her two sisters have had eight girls and one boy.

Blayke's medical records indicate the baby had no issues at birth and left the hospital doing very well.

According to her mom, she was born full-term but small, at 4.4 pounds, had a good appetite and was generally healthy.

"She was happy, she was blessed," said McAllister. "She had so many people that loved her. And now she's gone because she didn't make it to her next appointment." 

Hay described his daughter's illness and death as brutal.

"I watched her suffer for the last four days. Suffer to death."

CBC News made multiple attempts to speak with Dr. Hans about the care Blayke received in the days and weeks preceding her death.

'My baby died because of politics. And her father and I don't have the right last name in this city.' - Tessa McAllister

He declined an interview with CBC. 

McAllister, who is recovering from substance abuse and lives on social assistance, wonders what led to her baby's case being treated the way it was.

She said she will continue to fight for Blayke, so other families don't have to live through the same thing.

"I'm not looking for money, I'm not looking for anything. I'm looking for change," said McAllister, who feels terrorized by the events surrounding her daughter's death.

Blayke was McAllister's fourth daughter. (Tessa McAllister)

At her meeting with Miramichi hospital officials, McAllister and members of her family were told Blayke absolutely should have been admitted on Feb. 1, because RSV was a serious diagnosis for any child under two months of age, but the officials had no clear answer as to why she wasn't.

McAllister has one theory. 

"My baby Blayke died because of politics. That's what I got out of the meeting. That's why I left crying too. My baby died because of politics. And her father and I don't have the right last name in this city." 

Do you have information related to this story to share? Please send an email to nbinvestigates@cbc.ca

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated McAllister said the infant had been seen at least five times by doctors, including Hans, who all sent her home.This version clarifies McAllister is referencing two doctors. The earlier version also included an inaccurate transcription in McAllister’s account of waking up holding Blayke’s hand. The same version stated swabs were collected Jan. 31, when they were in fact delivered Jan. 31, and misspelled Codey Hay’s first name.
    Mar 12, 2018 7:58 PM AT

About the Author

Gabrielle Fahmy

Reporter

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.

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