A mother whose only son died after treatment in a Lagos hospital tells her heartbreaking story:
Mrs. Lillian Essien is a distraught woman. Her anguish was palpable as she spoke amidst tears. She just lost her only son — two-year-old Shawn.
Essien’s story is telling. Prior to her son’s birth, she had suffered a “terrible miscarriage” and was trying to recover when she got pregnant again. According to her, Shawn’s birth brought her joy, adding that the boy was a constant excitement to her while he lived.
She spoke in a disconsolate voice; weak, resigned and quiet..
Her words were filled with anguish and cry for justice as she narrated how her son died due to “negligence” of a Lagos private hospital, De Vitals Cares Hospital, Ilogbo in Ojo Local Government Area.
Essien said she wanted the private hospital to be brought to book for the untimely death of Shawn. According to her, the hospital did not give her son the appropriate treatment.
She told PUNCH’s Bayo Akinloye what happened on the day she took her only son to De Vitals.
“On December 9, 2015, I took my two-year-five-month-old son to De Vitals Cares Hospital at Babalola Bus Stop in Ilogbo for treatment. My child had been restless all night and had woken up weak and with yellowish eyes. We hurriedly left the house very early in the morning and got to the hospital a few minutes past 7am. They inserted a cannula (into his body), took his blood and put him on intravenous fluid immediately (after) his blood had been taken.
“I asked the medical doctor attending to him why the IV was given and what drugs were being injected into the IV, since the results of the tests weren’t out yet. And my son wasn’t passing out stool or vomiting. He murmured ‘B-complex’ and walked away. About an hour later, the doctor walked back into the room and I asked him if the test results were out and what the results of the tests were, he said he would be back and walked out again. He kept coming in and out of the room without telling me what the results were.
“This got me very worried. I started to feel something was horribly wrong with my son and that was why he didn’t want to tell me what the results were. The next time he came into the room I told him I wanted to know what the test results were and he said it was acute malaria and his PCV (packed cell volume) was 18 per cent and that he might need a blood transfusion,” Essien said.
Another IV, a saline solution, she noted was given to her son, with the hospital medical staff saying it will “wash away the yellowness from my son’s eyes.”
But her son’s condition worsened.
“My son became very restless when the second IV fluid got half way and it seemed like he was trying hard to breathe. I asked three nurses that came into the room if they had a nebulizer but they all didn’t seem to know what a nebulizer was. They said I shouldn’t be scared that it’s malaria parasite that made him restless. They kept assuring me that by the next morning, he will be fine,” Shawn’s mother said.
With Shawn’s health not improving, the hospital reportedly gave him a third and a fourth IV. At the third IV, his stomach, arms and feet were double of their sizes, his mother said. Despite the baby’s worsening condition, Essien said the hospital assured her the baby would be fine.
“My son seemed to be finding it so hard to breathe. The doctor came in again and I asked him exactly what all the IV fluids were for; that my child wasn’t passing out any stool neither was he vomiting. I don’t think he needs any more IV fluid. He left the room immediately and less than a minute later a nurse came in and said the doctor asked her to take out the IV.
“At about 10.33pm, the doctor came into the room and I said, ‘Doctor, please help me. My baby isn’t getting any better.’ He replied ‘Madam, pray to God to help you!’ He said he had decided to transfer my son and he wrote a referral letter for me to take my son to another hospital. My son had started gasping and his eyes seemed to have gone right into their sockets and looking even more yellowish,” she added.
By midnight, Essien and Shawn arrived at Isolo General Hospital. The chubby two-year-old was said to have arrived too late as he died about two minutes after he arrived the hospital.
“We got to the Isolo General Hospital, past midnight. The doctor on call seemed shocked after reading the referral letter. I remember him murmuring ‘What kind of stupid doctor administered all this medication to a child!’ He immediately put my son on oxygen and my son passed away in my arms after about two minutes.
Two weeks after Shawn’s death, Essien got a call from one Dr. Vitalis Mezie, the Chief Medical Director of the private hospital that treated her baby.
“I got a call from a certain Dr. Vitalis. He said he was the owner and medical director of the hospital where my son was treated. And that he was calling to apologise for the incompetence of his staff, which led to my son’s demise. He asked if I could send my address, so that he can come and apologise face to face and pay condolence. He came over a few days later with a member of his staff called Jerry.
“According to Dr. Vitalis, on the day I brought my son to his hospital, he had a court case in Ijebu-Ode (in Ogun State) and left a certain doctor in charge. The doctor in charge had to go for Shiloh 2015 (Winners Chapel Church’s convention/crusade), and (that doctor) invited another doctor who is a friend to stand in for him in the hospital.
“Dr. Vitalis went ahead to explain to us (my mother, my husband and I) how a nurse had called him to explain the situation at the hospital and he ordered that my son should be transferred to another hospital, because he didn’t want my son to pass away in his hospital.
He said when he was contacted while away in Ijebu-Ode, he knew his staff had ‘messed’ up, and it was ‘too late.’ He promised that the doctor who treated my son would visit to ‘apologise’ for his mistakes. My husband asked him what the doctor’s name was and he claimed he didn’t know, that when he came back from Ijebu-Ode and heard the entire story of what happened, he ‘beat the hell out’ of the doctor and asked him never to come close to his hospital. He never brought the doctor to apologise,” Shawn’s mother narrated.
But when Punch contacted Dr. Mezie, he denied taking responsibility for the two-year-old’s death.
“I have told her that the medical doctor who attended to her son is not our doctor. He was just on a visit. We are not responsible for the death of her son. It is not negligence of the hospital. You know some of these general hospitals give a bad image of private hospitals; maybe they are having problems with them (private hospitals), I don’t know.
“What happened was that the woman refused blood transfusion when she was told that her son’s PCV level was 18 – that was what my doctor told me when I came back. She said she didn’t want blood transfusion.
“While I was away (in Ijebu-Ode), and was informed that the baby’s condition was not improving I told my staff to discharge the baby immediately. The baby did not die in the hospital; the baby died at the general hospital. Nobody knew what they did in the general hospital with the baby. The medical doctor who treated the son was a visiting doctor. I was not around and my doctor was not around.
“I didn’t go to apologise for any negligence on the part of my hospital. I only went there to sympathise with her. Apologise for what? Why should we apologise? The baby died in the general hospital. How can we apologise? What are we apologising for? We did not apologise. In the normal Igbo culture, if someone dies, you go and visit; and he was our patient. We referred him (to another hospital) and a patient died and we are there to find out what happened,” De Vitals’ medical director said.
Essien, however, refuted Dr. Mezie’s claim that she did not allow the hospital to give her son blood transfusion, saying that she is not a Jehovah’s Witness who will refuse blood transfusion on religious grounds.
“The doctor that attended to my son mentioned once that my son might need blood transfusion and never again in the 16 hours I spent in that hospital was the issue of my baby needing blood mentioned. Never! I have had two cesarean sections. In both major operations, two pints of blood were demanded by the hospital I used; my husband provided the blood, which I didn’t use at the end of the day.
“I am knowledgeable about these things and if I can get blood for myself why would I refuse blood for my son? Why didn’t they refer me to another clinic immediately since they claimed I refused that my son should be transfused? Why did they keep us there for a whole 16 hours and kept pumping his tiny body with IV fluids?” she said.
Dr. Mezie also denied any attempt to shield the identity of the doctor who treated Shawn.
“I am not hiding the identity of the medical doctor. I will give you the number of my doctor who brought him,” he promised.
He had not done so until this report was filed. Repeated phone calls and text messages to the medical director did not yield any fruit.
The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria has however expressed its interest in the case.
In an email sent to her following Essien’s complaint about how her son was treated at De Vitalis, the MDCN said it was ready to investigate the allegations against Dr. Mezie and his hospital staff.
“We’re in receipt of your email complaining about the negligence of one Dr. Vitalis. Matters like the one you complained about are dealt with by the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Investigation Panel. By the rules of the panel, you are required to reduce your complaint to the form of an affidavit deposed to before a Commissioner of Oath or Notary Public. The affidavit should reach us as soon as possible to enable us ignite the process as prescribed by law,” it said.
When contacted the Secretary of the MDPIP, Dr. Emejo Abdul, told PUNCH that, “We don’t discuss matters under investigation in the public.”
Essien said she was determined to get justice for her son. “I am going to petition the Nigeria Police Force. This man (Dr. Mezie) and his hospital must be investigated. I will like the medical association to please investigate this man and his hospital, to prevent more lives being lost either to carelessness or negligence and to avoid a situation whereby any human being will pass through the emotional pain and trauma I am currently going through due to the death of my only son,” she cried.