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TRAGEDY: An inquest into the death of baby Tama Galiere is underway in Sydney.
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The mother of a baby boy who died of a heart attack after being admitted to the Sydney Children's Hospital for treatment for an eye infection said today she and her husband felt robbed by a seemingly inexplicable chain of events.
Karamia Wheaton, now a mother of three young children, told Deputy State Coroner Scott Mitchell: "He was a beautiful, beautiful baby. It was just not right. He was healthy except for an eye infection. He was a happy, happy boy. We just felt robbed."
Sergeant Sheldon Korneluk, assisting the inquest, said today that Tama Galiere, born on August 22, 2007, had suffered an eye infection in February 2008 and had been treated successfully with antibiotics.
He suffered the infection of the left eye again and was admitted to the children's hospital on June 10, 2008.
A catheter was inserted through the groin into his heart for more treatment with antibiotics and he responded so well he was sent home on June 20.
But the next day his mother noticed swelling again and he was readmitted on June 23. He then had a different catheter (a percutaneous intravenous central catheter, or PICC) inserted into his heart through an arm.
Two days later, the child's condition deteriorated suddenly and, despite effects to resuscitate him, he died.
"The issue for the inquest is why a a 10-month-old otherwise healthy child could go into hospital and not survive," Sergeant Korneluk said.
"How does someone who goes into hospital for treatment for an eye infection die?"
Ms Wheaton, who met her husband Pierra Galiere, a chef, in London, said in evidence that the child had had no ill-health before he was admitted to hospital apart from a cold.
However, in the third hospitalisation from June 22, 2008, when the catheter was inserted through the arm, he had suffered gastric upset.
When she saw him on June 25, she knew immediately that there was something seriously wrong. The baby was "as white as a ghost", she said. She had asked a nurse for some Panadol and the nurse went to get it but was in a hurry.
The baby was injected with the Panadol but vomited it up again.
Ms Wheaton had asked a nurse to get a doctor but the nurse said a doctor had just seen the child. But 15 minutes after the doctor saw the child, his lips had started to turn blue.
Ms Wheaton said she had signed agreements to have both catheters inserted. But she did not recall discussions about the exact placement of the tip of the catheter at the top of the right atrium.
Nor had she been told about the possible adverse reactions and side-effects. She had not been told that it could result in the patient dying.
In answer to Michael Williams, SC, for the family, Ms Wheaton said the nurse she had asked for help did not really seem to be listening to her and when the baby had vomited up the Panadol the nurse had said it was "common enough" in cases of gastric upset.
When she insisted on getting a doctor, the nurse had "stormed off" and come back with a senior nurse.
After the baby died, there had been a meeting with the hospital staff, she had been told that death could have come from the catheter, or from the gastric condition, or possibly a weak heart, or something wrong with the immune system. She had left confused and her husband angry.
She had been told that, after it was inserted, the catheter might have "migrated" in the body, but they did not know why. It was also possible that, during efforts to resuscitate the baby, the catheter might have been pushed further into his heart.
Outside court, Anna Walsh, of the legal firm Maurice Blackburn, representing Tama's parents, said: "The port-mortem report for Tama revealed myocarditis [inflammation of the heart] with a distinct possibility of physical trauma due to placement of the PICC line.
"Tama's death raises issues about the insertion and management of PICC lines in babies and whether the hospital had appropriate clinical guidelines in place to guide good practice."