THE traumatised parents of nine-year-old Raychel Ferguson, who died in hospital in 2001 after an operation at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, today told of the moment her life support machine was turned off.
Speaking yesterday at a public inquiry into her death in Banbridge Courthouse, Marie Ferguson told how she heard on June 10, 2001 that her daughter would never recover.
In her statement to the inquiry, Mrs Ferguson said: “We were told the machine would have to be switched off when we were ready as Raychel would never recover. I know that no one here could possibly imagine how you could ever be ready to
face something like this.”
She said that day she sat in “a chair with Ray beside me, the nurse lifted Raychel out on to my knee, my three sons were sitting around crying, I begged Raychel to please wake up. This was our last chance, but this did not happen. The nurse nodded and I nodded back. When I watched Raychel’s rosy cheeks slowly turn to white and her nails turn blue and it was over. All I can recall then is loud sobbing and crying. This is an image I’ll take to the grave with me.”
Mrs Ferguson said she “made Raychel a promise the day her coffin was closed and she left home for the last time that I would not stop until I got to the truth of what happened.”
Mrs Ferguson told how she and her husband Ray believed their daughter was in “the best place to be cared for”. Their daughter died on June 10, 2001, at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, a day after having her appendix removed in Altnagelvin Hospital.
The inquiry is looking into the death of Raychel and four other children by examining the fluid levels administered before the children’s deaths.
In the case of four of the children, an inquest stated that hyponatraemia was a factor that contributed to their deaths. Hyponatraemia is the term for a low level of sodium in the bloodstream causing the brain cells to swell with too much water.
Mrs Ferguson told how her daughter, who had no medical problems had won a medal at the school sports day and when she came home was “was bouncing about”.
A short time later, around 6.30pm, however Raychel mentioned having “a sore belly”. Mrs Ferguson said she was not initially concerned as her daughter was still running in and out of the house.
After dinner, Mrs Ferguson said Raychel was still complaining of feeling unwell but she decided to take her to casualty when
“her face had turned a grey colour”.
“That’s the reason I took her to the hospital. It wasn’t because of the pain,” she added.
Mrs Ferguson picked her husband up from work en route to the hospital and he carried his daughter into A&E. After being examined, the Ferguson’s were told that Raychel would be kept in and that she would need an operation to have her appendix removed in the early hours of June 8.
Mr Ferguson told the inquiry that after speaking to a doctor the following morning about his daughter, he was told “the operation went fine and she had a mildly inflamed appendix”.
Mrs Ferguson said when she arrived, around 9.30am, she found her daughter sitting at a small table and chair colouring in. When she saw her mother, the child jumped up to hug her and immediately told her she had been sick.
Mrs Ferguson said her daughter first vomited with her around 11am, although the inquiry heard it had been recorded by the hospital that the child had vomited at 8am and 10am.
Raychel’s condition continued to deteriorate during the day, according to her parents, vomiting throughout. They said the nursing staff told them vomiting after an operation was “just normal, natural after an operation”.
Mrs Ferguson said she went home to see her other children but saw a deterioration in her daughter’s condition when she returned.
The family claim the nurses on duty rarely checked their daughter, something that is strongly contested. She said when she returned her daughter was zombie-like, listless, and communicated by moving her eyes.
Later that night the Ferguson’s went home with the strict instructions they were to be called if Raychel’s condition changed.
In a phone call at 4am they were told to return to the hospital as Raychel was “having a seizure or a fit”.
Mr Ferguson said when he got back to Ward Six, where his daughter was being kept, there was “chaos with so many people around the bed”. “I was told Raychel was seriously ill,” he added.
Later, after his wife arrived at the hospital, Raychel was taken to intensive care where they saw her being administered the last rites by a Catholic Priest.