Kelle Cadwallader, 37, who was 34 weeks' pregnant, died on September 17.
Kelle Cadwallader, 37, who was 34 weeks' pregnant, died on September 17. NZH

Pregnant mum died after hospital sent her home

A DEVASTATED family are demanding answers after a heavily pregnant mother of three died two days after she was sent home from hospital still complaining of chest pains.

Kelle Cadwallader, 37, who was 34 weeks' pregnant, died on September 17.

Her death and that of her unborn child have been reported to the coroner and are being investigated by health authorities.

Ms Cadwallader's sister, Naomi Meech, said the Invercargill woman was sent home from Southland Hospital after being told she had indigestion. Within 48 hours, she had died in Dunedin Hospital following heart bypass surgery.

"I went hysterical when I was told she was dying and said, 'Why didn't they do something on the Monday?' My sister wasn't a hypochondriac. She would never go see a doctor unless she had to. But they fobbed us off and now my sister and her baby are in a box on my windowsill."

The baby, whom Ms Cadwallader had named Archer, was due next week.

"She always wanted to have another baby, and we always understood that, because she was the mothering type," said her daughter, Malorie, 18, of Wellington.

Her mother was an avid pet lover and had found alternative homes for her seven cats and four dogs as she prepared for the arrival of her fourth child, a brother for Malorie, Kayden, 20, and Jack, 15.

On Monday, September 15, Kelle Cadwallader was taken to Southland Hospital in an ambulance with chest pains.

Mrs Meech met her at the hospital. "I said to her, 'Is it your asthma, Kelle?' because she was short of breath, and she said, 'No, it feels like a different chest pain'."

She described it as like having an air bubble in the chest and "kept on saying she wanted the baby out".

She was given tests, including two ECGs, and had a chest x-ray, but not a CT scan. "They told her she had acute indigestion" and she was sent home, Mrs Meech said.

The next day Mrs Meech got a call from her nephew. She rushed to her sister's home and found her being treated by paramedics for what "I believed to be a heart attack. It was just horrible ... the worst day of my life."

Ms Cadwallader was again taken to Southland Hospital. The obstetrician could not find the baby's heartbeat and, following a CT scan, Ms Cadwallader was taken to the intensive care unit with a suspected heart aneurysm.

Adverse weather on Tuesday night meant she could not be airlifted to Dunedin until 7am the next day.

"That was the last time I saw her conscious," Mrs Meech said. "She knew things were going bad and she told me how proud she was and that she loved me.

"I don't remember the drive to Dunedin, but it was about halfway when I realised the baby was dead, because the baby wasn't being monitored [at the hospital].

"When I got to Dunedin, I demanded they tell me but they still wouldn't ... they kept telling me to have hope."

Ms Cadwallader was pleading with staff to "take Archer out". Later, a nurse told Mrs Meech that her sister - who she says never knew her baby had died - had asked "that the baby be saved before herself".

While the heart bypass was a success, her organs failed and she died at 8.45pm, just as a desperate Malorie was phoning her aunt trying to find out what was going on.

Mrs Meech said the surgeon did not know her sister had gone to Southland Hospital just two days earlier complaining of chest pains. Both she and her niece now wanted answers.

Ms Cadwallader said: "I don't think it should happen again. If the hospital had got to mum a day earlier, then mum and baby would have been alive."

The Southern District Health Board's medical director of patient services, Richard Bunton, confirmed a serious-adverse-event investigation was under way.

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