A grieving new father is looking for answers after he says his wife suddenly developed a fatal strep infection last month just days after giving birth to their first son.
Ahmad Saleem says his wife Ayesha Riaz was only 24 when she contracted an invasive strain of Group A streptococcus, three days after delivering their son, Eesa, at Markham Stouffville Hospital in southern Ontario.
Saleem says their baby arrived so quickly that a nurse had to do the delivery, and though their son was healthy, within a few hours, Ayesha began to feel unwell.
“She was complaining of pain in her tailbone, and felt overheated,” Saleem told CTVNews.ca.
With Eesa showing signs of jaundice, Riaz decided to stay overnight in hospital with her baby. But by the next morning, she was not feeling any better. Saleem had to go into the office to close up his files and Riaz texted him to say she had headaches and was feeling short of breath.
“I kept all those texts,” he told CTVNews.ca.
Saleem alleges the hospital nurses told his wife her complaints were likely due to the usual pains of childbirth.
By the following day, Saleem says his wife’s heart rate had gone up. While an ECG heart test was performed, the family never learned of the results. Instead, he says hospital staff told Riaz to “walk it off,” or to do breathing exercises to help with her shortness of breath. Saleem alleges hospital nurses repeatedly ignored his wife’s growing discomfort.
“There was just a lack of care for three days as they completely dismissed her complaints,” he said.
With Saleem and his in-laws taking shifts to watch over Riaz, the young dad went home to get some sleep. That night, his wife’s mother called at 3 a.m. to let him listen to how laboured his wife’s breathing had become.
He says his wife even walked over to the nurses station herself to request oxygen but was told a doctor would see her in the morning.
By the next morning -- the day of her death – Saleen says Riaz had spiked a fever.
“They finally gave her oxygen at 5 a.m.—hours after she started complaining. But still no doctor had come to see her,” Saleem said. “I laid down next to her and she was burning up. I have never felt someone so warm.”
After a doctor examined Riaz around 10 a.m., Saleem says blood tests were finally ordered. By noon, doctors had become concerned and sent her down to the intensive care unit, where they began a course of antibiotics delivered through an IV.
“That’s when they said to me, ‘We’re treating this as Group A Strep.’ And I said Group A Strep? What’s that?”
A bit of research on his phone revealed the seriousness of his wife’s situation. While most cases of Group A streptococcus (GAS) cause only mild skin or throat infections, there are rare, invasive strains that can cause severe illness, including Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Though Riaz was now badly ill, she only wanted to see her son, says Saleem.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to go home,’” he said.
While attempting to sedate and intubate Riaz to allow her to breathe better – a procedure Saleem say he didn’t want to see happen -- the young mother went into cardiac arrest. After doctors ended their attempts to revive her, Saleem jumped onto the table to continue the CPR himself, desperate to bring his wife back.
“I was crying obviously. I kept telling the doctor, ‘I told you not to do this! I told you not to do this!’ Eventually the doctor said, ‘She’s not coming back.’ And I lost it,” he said.
Markham-Stouffville Hospital would not comment on Saleem’s claims, but Lisa Joyce, the vice-president of communications and public affairs, confirms that two other patients at the hospital also became ill with Group A Strep at the same time as Riaz.
She says the hospital informed York Region Public Health of the suspected cases on Feb. 10, the same day Riaz died. The hospital immediately brought in enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures and restricted visitors to the patient care unit.
“We worked closely with Public Health and consulted Dr. Allison McGeer, a recognized leader in the field of infection control from Mount Sinai Hospital,” Joyce said in response to CTVNews.ca questions.
Joyce added the hospital immediately began an internal review with members of its infection prevention and control team.
Saleem says he has not been able to get any answers about why his wife was ignored for so long. He also wants to review his wife’s complete medical records, but the hospital has not turned all of them over.
He says he recently was told that two hospital employees were dismissed after attempting to access his wife’s medical records after her death.
Joyce told CTVNews.ca that “a routine audit disclosed two privacy breaches which resulted in disciplinary measures.”
She added: “Whenever the hospital ascertains that there has been a breach of patient confidentiality, disciplinary measures are taken which are appropriate to the circumstances.”
Saleem is now in the process of retaining legal counsel so that he can launch a lawsuit against the hospital. He and his family have begun a GoFundMe crowdfunding page where they are seeking help with the legal fees.
The family says they hope their legal action can get them the answers they seek.
“Although we will never be able to bring Ayesha back, the family wants to ensure that this never happens to anyone ever again,” the crowdfunding page reads.