Features — 14 September 2012 — by Aaron Humes
Medical mystery – Corozal mother, expecting twins, gets only one son

“Did the ultrasound tell a lie?” mother asks

Expert says error with three different labs’ diagnosis “highly unlikely”

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 13, 2012

The Ministry of Health continues its investigation into a strange case emerging from the North, in which a 33-year-old mother of three who gave birth last Tuesday got only one son when she was expecting twin sons.

This afternoon, Michelle Gonzalez, of Corozal Town, told Amandala via telephone that she first went to the Corozal Community Hospital when she was six months along. The nurse attending her commented that she looked bigger than someone at that stage should have looked and advised that she get an ultrasound, which she did at Orange Walk Town’s Northern Medical Specialty Plaza on August 2.

We confirmed with the Plaza this afternoon that the result of that ultrasound showed twin boys, one in the “breech” position (that is, lying length-wise in the uterus instead of the normal, head-first position in which babies are born) and the other in the normal position. (The name on the request form at the Plaza is Rochelle Gonzalez, but it is the same person and Michelle, who brought the form herself from the hospital, told us the attendant misheard her name.)

On her return appointment a week later she was sent to a doctor at the hospital, who examined her and recommended Caesarian section surgery and sent her to make an appointment at the Northern Regional Hospital in Orange Walk Town, for September 3.

But before that, she told us, she went for another ultrasound in Chetumal which confirmed the twin pregnancy, the position of the baby boys, and the due date. She presented this in Corozal when she was sent to Orange Walk for the appointment.

When she checked in at the Northern Regional Hospital, she was admitted and prepped for surgery the following morning, Tuesday, September 4, and the C-section was done beginning at 10:00 a.m. She was released around 1:00 p.m., but was never given an explanation by the doctors working on her for why she was only handed one baby boy, instead of twin boys.

According to Michelle, she could overhear the doctors asking each other “Cuantos bolsas sacarse?” (How many bags did you take out?) and see the exit door of her room open, but she was in and out of consciousness due to the anesthesia she was under during the surgery.

She also recalled hearing a baby’s cry and seeing the doctors working on her, but it was left to her mother to explain the news when she, the grandmother of the baby, was informed while bringing in the baby clothes for her daughter. “Yu di play,” was her reaction to what had happened.

The doctors, she said, kept avoiding an encounter with them when the family demanded explanations and told her to get herself dressed. She has since been to Belize City, but has run into difficulty with the stitches, so they were not taken out.

Gonzalez, who has two girls and another son, said a psychiatrist was also brought to her to explain to her the news and counsel her through the situation. When the psychiatrist happened to mention that it was possible that the ultrasound “told a lie,” she responded, “How now the ultrasound can tell a lie? You think if it can tell when people have [kidney stones] it tells lie?”

When the statement was qualified to suggest that a “mistake” was possible, she said, she told them the same thing.

Gonzalez told us that contrary to the Ministry of Health’s report issued earlier this week, she was tested for a normal pregnancy and never told that she had any risk complications of high blood pressure, which was checked before her surgery.

“Every time I was tested, they tested two heartbeats, now they come to me and give me only one son, and they still refuse to explain,” the mother said.

Michelle Gonzalez says she was looking forward to having twins – her family has a history of them – and adding to her family. Now, she questions whether something happened to her other son. The healthy boy she bore last Tuesday, she was told, weighs about 8 pounds, but looks smaller – and some of her previous children were born at that weight, so she would know. She told us that even the doctor she first spoke to seems to be changing his tune, saying that a twin cannot be as large as 8 pounds, that it would be smaller, around 5 or 6 pounds.

The Ministry of Health reported in a press release issued on Wednesday that at her first visit to Corozal Hospital, on July 2, she was 23 weeks, almost six months, along, and only “one fetus was noted.”

However, she was re-evaluated and diagnosed on August 15 after presenting the Chetumal ultrasound which showed twins, which was confirmed at the Northern Regional on August 20. Subsequent prenatal clinics in Corozal on August 23 and 30 confirmed no change.

The single fetus was delivered on September 4 “under normal conditions,” says the Ministry, but adds, “It was only until then that the doctors discovered that it was not a twin but a single pregnancy. The client was immediately informed of this by the surgical team, which included one obstetrician, two pediatricians, one anesthesiologist, one medical officer, one operating room nurse, one certified registered nurse anesthetist and one circulating nurse.”

According to the Ministry, “Ultrasounds, like many other imaging diagnostic tests, may have limitations. In the case of pregnancy, the older the gestational age the higher the probability of error in determining fatal growth and development.”

But a medical expert in gynecology and obstetrics we spoke with says that the Ministry has it wrong: the gestational age has nothing to do with the ultrasound result.

The expert added that it was not impossible, but highly unlikely for three different lab technicians, in Corozal, Orange Walk and Chetumal, to make the same error and diagnose a twin pregnancy when there was only one baby.

All Gonzalez wants, apart from her second son, is to find out what happened. “I am not a fool …this is not right. I have heard that this is not the first time, that it has happened before at Northern Regional. I am not going to let this go. Either someone killed my baby or something happened. I want to know and I am going to talk to a lawyer about this,” she told Amandala.

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