Vânia Alves
Vânia Alves "had always dreamed of being a mother", says her heartbroken family

Family sue over tragic late pregnancy death of mother and baby

Accuse hospital of negligence, and profaning of corpse

With the country’s State health service in turmoil, the family of 26-year-old pregnant woman Vânia Alves, who died, with her unborn baby, in frankly unacceptable circumstances at the end of August, have lodged a criminal case against Guimarães Hospital.

They are claiming the hospital was negligent in the way it cared for Vânia, who was carrying an at-risk pregnancy that had already shown signs that all was not well.

“The family want answers”, writes Correio da Manhã today – referring to the signs that Vânia was suffering pre-eclampsia having been ignored, with the most devastating of all possible outcomes.

“The hospital wanted to save financial resources”, Cristina Sousa, the family’s lawyer, told the paper whose television channel (CMTV) will be carrying an exposé this evening at 9.30pm, entitled “Dreams betrayed”.

The reality is that had Vânia Alves been admitted to hospital on August 28 when she arrived complaining of shortness of breath, dizziness and stomach pains, her unborn baby could easily have been delivered by Cesarean section as his development was well into the 35th week (a point at which induced births have a roughly 100% success rate). But she was sent home – to collapse only a few hours later, dying in the ambulance that attended her.

“This was a lot of negligence on the part of the hospital”, Vânia’s father António Alves tells CM. “Vânia should have been admitted, and they could have done a Cesarean. Today perhaps both of them would be here”.

But instead the family buried mother and baby (still inside her womb) on August 31, with endless questions eating away at them.

One of these, explains CM, is that “the death of Santiago (the name Vânia and her partner Tiago had given their unborn son) was documented as two days after the death” of his mother – which is impossible. Santiago will have died shortly after his mother died, due to the lack of oxygen that would have been circulating in her/ his blood.

Today’s report in CM also refers to a visit to Guimarães hospital made by Vânia four days before August 28, when she equally complained of dizziness and stomach pains – symptoms of pre-eclampsia which causes high blood pressure and which can be verified by proteins found in the person’s urine.

On August 24, the hospital’s diagnosis was, according to Vânia’s father, that she had a urine infection – but she was sent home, he explains, without any kind of medication.

Guimarães hospital (also known as Hospital Senhora da Oliveira) has always maintained that “all clinical protocols were complied with” in this tragedy. But the death of Vânia Alves was the subject of a number of inquiries even before the family had lodged their complaint. (The Public Prosecutor, health regulator ERS and IGAS, the health activities inspectorate, all opened separate investigations).

This was the cruelest of endings for a desperately-wanted newborn.

“My daughter was so happy to be a mother”, António Alves told the paper. “It was her dream. This is a pain that will stay forever. It will never heal. My wife is in a depression (…) This is a great tragedy”.

Vânia’s sister Sara has added: “They did not let Vânia meet her son. They did not let us, his family, meet him. We were all betrayed. We are demanding justice for Vânia, and for Santiago”.

[email protected]