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Nuns' Apology - Medical Missionaries of Mary 'Deeply Regrets' Hurt and Trauma of Symphysiotomy Victims

Drogheda Independent, by Fiona Magennis, February 24, 2010

'EVERY time he hit me with that saw it was like a nightmare.' This was the chilling experience Micheline Gilroy from Julianstown, one of hundreds of women who underwent a painful symphysiotomy in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, had to endure, where the pelvic bone is sawn through to break it.

Her unborn child also suffered through the birth as his head was cut with the saw as the doctor performed the symphysiotomy.

'I went into the Lourdes to have my first child on August 25th, 1968 - there were no complications and although I was in labour for 36 hours I just thought it was a normal birth,' said Micheline.

'I didn't realise the events that were about to change my life. It wasn't until the very end of the labour that it all happened when Dr Connolly performed that operation.'

Micheline's obstetrician, Dr Gerard Connolly decided to carry out a symphysiotomy without telling Micheline what was happening or getting her consent for the procedure.

'He sawed through my pelvic bone while I was wide awake without making me aware of what he was doing or getting my consent,' said Micheline.

'I felt everything when the bone was being sawed. When the contractions would die off, that's when he'd saw.'

The Julianstown mother of one said the room was full of nurses and young doctors while the procedure was taking place.

'What lasting impression did it give to these kids? Many of them were young women having to witness this.

'I screamed the place down because every time he hit me with that saw it was like a nightmare.

'I thought I was on my way out. John's head was cut with the saw. When he was lifted up you could see the cut on his head.'

She said the days and weeks that followed were horrendous as she didn't see her son, who survived the procedure, and was unable to stand because of the pain.

'Afterwards, you just had to get on with it. My husband, JJ, never knew what happened but I never had any more children, that finished it for me.' THE Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) have apologised to the women who underwent symphisiotomies at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

In a statement issued to the Drogheda Independent on Tuesday morning, a spokesperson for the MMMs said the organisation 'deeply regrets' any hurt or trauma sustained by women who underwent a symphysiotomy at the time of the delivery of their baby in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda.

The MMM spokesperson said symphysiotomy operations were carried out 'solely at the discretion of the obstetricians involved' during the period when the MMMs owned the hospital.

'The Medical Missionaries of Mary always expected that any procedure in the hospital was carried out for good clinical reasons,' she said.

'The incidences of these procedures were recorded in the Annual Report of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda which was published and furnished to the Department of Health and the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology.'

A number of local women have this week spoken to the Drogheda Independent about the agony they suffered at the hands of Dr Gerard Connolly and the ongoing pain - both physical and psychological - they are still going through.

Micheline Gilroy from Julianstown told of her terror as she felt the saw cut through her pelvis and her distress at the sight of her baby boy with a cut on his head. Thankfully her son, John, made a full recovery.

'I screamed the place down because every time he hit me with that saw it was like a nightmare. I thought I was on my way out,' she said.

Support Group Survivors of Symphyotomy (SOS) are calling on the Minister for Health to carry out the full and independent inquiry into the practice. THE Health Service Executive (HSE) has said they have made 'considerable progress' on putting in place the required level of support for patients living in the north east who have undergone symphysiotomies.

A spokesperson for the HSE said Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was transferred to the then North Eastern Health Board (NEHB) in 1997, prior to which the hospital was owned and run by the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

'There is no record of symphysiotomies being carried out at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital since the former North Eastern Health Board/HSE took ownership of the hospital,' she said.

The spokesperson went on to say support had been put in place for patients who had undergone symphysiotomies, including the appointment of a Liaison Officer for the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group in 2003.

'The role of the Liaison Officer is to liase and meet with patients that have undergone symphysiotomy to discuss their healthcare needs,' she said, adding Independent clinical advice is available, on request, through the liaison officer.

To date, 73 women have been profiled in the north east area and all have availed of some or all of the services offered, the spokesperson said.

In addition, she said individual pathways of care have been organised including medical, gynae and orthopaedic assessment, counselling, physiotherapy, reflexology, hom help, acupuncture, fast tracked hospital appointments and GMS Cards.

Women in the north east were also offered a triple assessment service at Cappagh Hospital in Dublin which was established in January 2005.

Between March and June 2005, 22 women from the area availed of this service and following assessment, recommendations for care pathways were discussed with each individual patient.

The spokesperson went on to say a supported group established in 2004 and facilitated by a counsellor is still available in Drogheda during the first Tuesday afternoon of each month between 2pm and 5pm and independent counselling is available when requested.