Birth potentially deadly

Insurance was at issue

Questions are starting to emerge about what led to a 19-year-old Jamaican woman giving birth on a flight between Grand Cayman and Jamaica Tuesday.

Cayman Airways leaving

Questions are starting to emerge about what led to a Jamaican woman giving birth on a flight between Grand Cayman and Jamaica on Tuesday. Photo: File

Talking on the phone from her room at Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Shellesha Woodstock said her water broke at about 5am Monday morning and she went to the George Town Hospital’s emergency room. From there she was transferred to the hospital’s maternity ward.

It was at that point that her problems began, Ms Woodstock said.

At the maternity ward, Ms Woodstock, who was only 29 and-a-half weeks pregnant, presented her medical insurance card. She was soon told by hospital staff that her insurance only covered her alone and not the baby,’ she said.

A nurse advised her that she could not afford to have the baby in Cayman, and should travel to Jamaica for the delivery. A maternity ward doctor was present throughout the discussion and agreed with this advice, Ms Woodstock said.

A doctor gave Ms Woodstock an injection for the baby’s lungs – likely dexamethasone, which is often administered to premature baby’s to increase lung maturity.

She was subsequently given a signed letter by the doctor, indicating that is was safe for her to travel to Jamaica.

‘When I got to the hospital, they told me they don’t want to take the baby, so what they going to do, they going to send me to Jamaica. What they tell me about it was that it was too expensive but I didn’t tell them anything about any money.’

Ms Woodstock and her partner, Laflin Clarke, a Department of Environmental Health employee, returned home to pack bags but did not make the 1pm Air Jamaica flight.

They returned to the hospital and spent Monday afternoon and night at the hospital’s emergency department. Here, Ms Woodstock was seen by nurses but was not consulted by a doctor, she said.

At 5am Tuesday, Ms Woodstock and her partner returned to the airport, where they caught the 6.45am CAL flight 600 to Jamaica.

Within 10 to 15 minutes of boarding the plane, Ms Woodstock, began to feel cramps. She alerted a flight attendant that she thought she was going into labour. CAL staff responded by laying her on the floor near the cockpit, and within five minutes baby Latiesha Julene Clarke was born. Captain Kris Bergstrom diverted to Montego Bay, where the flight was met by an ambulance, Cayman Airways reported in a press release.

In a statement, the HSA said:

‘The patient was assessed by the attending physician and expressed her desire to travel off island for the delivery. Based on the Physician assessment the patient was deemed fit to travel.

‘It is standard industry policy by most airlines to accept, as passengers, expectant mothers, in their 28th week of normal pregnancy or less. However, a certificate from their doctor is required to prove the duration of pregnancy.

‘One of the risks of any pregnancy is that the membranes could rupture weeks or months before due date and is not an inhibiting factor for air travel.’

HHHowever two leading obstetricians have expressed shock the young woman was allowed to travel.

Dr. Sarath De Alwis, a consultant OBGYN at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, said never in his life has he heard of a 29-week pregnant mother, with membrane rupture, being allowed to fly.

The fact that baby Latiesha was so premature meant expert medical care and equipment had to be on hand, he said.

Because the baby’s lungs would not have been properly developed, it needed an incubator and oxygen on hand to guard against the risk of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen, he explained.

Another OBGYN, who did not want to be named because he delivers baby’s at George Town Hospital, said turning the woman away, let alone letting her fly, was unthinkable.

‘You don’t send her home and, wow, you don’t let her get on a plane.

‘I would never let a patient with ruptured membranes get on a plane and go off to Jamaica – never.

‘Once the waters break … the likelihood of going into labour is very, very high. Most will go into labor on the first day. If not, in the next 24 hours virtually all except for one will go into labor.

‘Between you and me, her problem was that she doesn’t have money. Her insurance may not have been a good insurance and therefore she was sent packing – go off to Jamaica – that’s the long and short of it.’