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Parents Demand Answers After Baby Girl Died Of Whooping Cough

Medical Law Experts Investigate Whether More Could Have Been Done To Prevent Five-Week-Old’s Death


The heartbroken parents of a baby girl who died of whooping cough aged just five weeks old say they want to know why no vaccine was offered during pregnancy despite the NHS being aware of a national epidemic of the serious illness.

Emma Sharp and Colin Herdman have now instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate whether more could have been done to prevent their daughter Violet Herdman’s death on 1 May this year.

Irwin Mitchell is investigating to discover why Emma was not given a whooping cough vaccine by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust during her pregnancy,  despite there being a known national epidemic, as well as whether more could have been done to recognise and treat Violet’s deteriorating symptoms in the days before her death.

Michelle Armstrong is a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office representing the couple.

Expert Opinion
This is a tragic case and Violet’s parents have been left devastated by her sudden death.

“Violet’s cause of death was found to be multi-organ failure and a lung infection caused by whooping cough and we will now begin investigations to discover why Emma did not receive a vaccine during pregnancy, as well as why it was not recognised that Violet’s symptoms of a cough and breathing difficulties were related to whooping cough which needed immediate treatment.

“Although rare, whooping cough can be fatal for babies as Violet’s death shows and it is vital that all hospital Trusts follow guidance issued by the NHS particular during a known epidemic of the condition. Vaccinations can prevent whooping cough or mean it’s less severe.

“We hope that the Trust will now work with us quickly and amicably to provide answers for Emma and Colin that will help them to come to terms with what has happened. We also hope that any shortcomings identified in our investigations are learnt from by the Trust as quickly as possible to protect the safety of future patients.”
Michelle Armstrong, Solicitor
Violet was born prematurely on 26 March this year at Wansbeck Hospital and despite initially struggling to feed, she was discharged to the family’s home in Morpeth, Northumberland, 10 days later as a healthy baby.

However, within a couple of weeks, Emma and Colin became concerned as Violet was not interested in feeding and was working hard to breathe. She was admitted to North Tyneside Hospital on 27 April and underwent tests, but despite her breathing stopping on multiple occasions and her lips turning blue, staff discharged her a day later saying it was nothing more than a chest infection.

But at home, Violet’s conditioned worsened and the following day Emma had to resuscitate her when she saw that she had stopped breathing and her body had turned blue.

She was taken back to North Tyneside Hospital and the couple were told Violet may have pneumonia. She was later transferred to great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle for ventilation support.

It was not until Violet suffered a full cardiac arrest, believed to have been caused by a blood infection, that Emma and Colin were told for the first time Violet had whopping cough.

Doctors said that by then there was nothing more that could be done for her and after being baptised in hospital, the couple made the heart breaking decision to allow her life support to be switched off.

Emma, 33, who has four other children aged between 12 and 22 months, said: “Violet’s death has left the entire family in pieces and at the moment it feels like every day is a struggle.

“We only had two weeks of her at home and I cannot help but think of all the things she missed out on – it’s absolutely heart breaking.

“I knew there was something seriously wrong with Violet and never believed she should have been discharged from hospital when she had stopped breathing so many times, but the staff were adamant she was fine. 

“Having to resuscitate her at home in front of my children was absolutely horrendous and I’m sure will continue to affect us all for years to come.”

She added: “After Violet’s death I researched whooping cough and was shocked to discover that all pregnant women should be vaccinated because of a known epidemic. I learnt that the best time to get the injection was between 28 and 32 weeks and with Violet being born at over 33 weeks I cannot understand why I slipped through the net. Two of my previous children have been premature so the maternity staff should have known there was a chance Violet would also be premature and vaccinated me at the earliest opportunity.

“Before we can even begin to think about coming to terms with what has happened, Colin and I need answers about why I was not offered a vaccine and why no link was made between Violet’s symptoms and whooping cough.

“Nothing can turn back the clock for us but for Violet’s death not to be completely in vain we need reassurance that every NHS Trust provides vaccines for pregnant women and that staff are trained to recognise the condition so it can be treated appropriately. It’s too late for Violet but it might just help prevent another family going through the same hell as us.” 

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