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A Brisbane mother who lost her son following alleged negligent heart surgery at the Queensland Children’s Hospital, is calling for change within the healthcare system to provide better mental health support to parents like her.

Roman Higgins was just 15 months old when he died following the surgery in April 2019. Eva Poulsen and her family members have launched a medical negligence claim against the hospital in the Supreme Court, alleging Roman’s death was caused when a ligature was placed around the aorta instead of the arterial duct. According to medical records, the failure to recognise this error until more than four hours later, led to multiple organ failure.

He was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit in a relatively stable condition but deteriorated and required cardiac and respiratory support the following day. A CT scan revealed he had suffered a stroke, causing loss of oxygen and damage to the tissue. Care was withdrawn and he died.

“It’s been a continuous cycle of trauma after losing him like this. We are wanting justice for the below standard of care Roman received and the lack of transparency about his condition after the surgery. The hospital told us verbally and in writing on the consent form for the surgery, that the risk of death following this procedure was less than one per cent and that the sooner the surgery was over and done with, the sooner he could get on with his life. After we were told there was a problem in surgery, we were continually told that Roman would get worse before he got better but that he would be coming home. The first time death came up was after Roman had passed. We were completely blindsided because of all the previous conversations and reassurance we had been given from the clinicians. We can’t bring back our son but we want to make sure this doesn’t keep happening to other families like us,” Ms Poulsen said.

Ms Poulsen said while the hospital had taken steps to prevent more deaths occurring like this during surgery, including investing in new equipment and machinery, more could be done to provide mental health and social work support for grieving families.

“Support provided by hospitals to parents like me, is an underfunded area in the public health system - especially when children are involved and in the worst case, children have died. People with sick children are already very stressed people. When something goes wrong and a family lose their child, especially as a result of poor care, they are going to need considerable support. There should be more focus on the mental health of parents of children in hospitals,” Ms Poulsen said.

“I was also pregnant with my daughter at the time of Roman’s death. I felt alone, desperate, devastated and I wanted to take my own life. My world stopped when my son was removed from life support. Once Roman had passed and we returned home, no one called, no one followed up, no one checked on me.”

Ms Poulsen had aspirations to be a neonatal nurse and was unable to her finish studies after the alleged negligent surgery and traumatic death of Roman.

Slater and Gordon Medical Law Principal Lawyer Vicki Holmes, who is representing the family, said the surgery had resulted in catastrophic consequences, leading to the tragic and avoidable death of a young child.

“This is a horrific experience for any family to go through,” Ms Holmes said.

“There was a failure to identify and check the ligature had been placed on the duct. It never should have happened. The outcome shows the hospital acted well below the required standard and now this mother will never hold her son again.”

Media Contact Anna Chisholm (03) 9602 8683/ 0437 801 093