Thursday, 31 May 2018

Vicki Lee Dean by Tracy



My story is not just that of a grieving Mother of a Stillborn Baby born back in 1985, but that of parents who had the opportunity to be a part of the changes made to the National Code of Ethical Autopsy Practice.  By being a part of this, although the circumstances at first were quite distressing, it gave me and my husband a chance to represent our child, to have her existence acknowledged by others. 

On ANZAC Day 1985 at 7.10am Vicki Lee Dean was born sleeping at The Queen Victoria Hospital at 25 weeks gestation. After a routine appointment & follow up ultrasound it was confirmed my baby had passed. It was also our first wedding anniversary that week.  I was then induced, enduring a ten hour labour. She was whisked away from me and I walked out of the hospital with 2 polaroid photos of her. That week was such a blur as we were also moving into our new house.  Thankfully when I left hospital I walked into our new home after family had so very kindly moved all our belongings for us. At first I did not want to deal with a funeral but after a fortnight I decided I needed to lay her to rest. We had a small family graveside funeral at Centennial Park. 

We grieved like every parent does. We got on with life and were blessed with two healthy children in 1986 and 1988. They grew up knowing they had an older sister and every year we visited her grave on ANZAC Day. Back then though miscarriage & stillbirth weren’t discussed much and the only support available was from your Doctor or the wonderful people at SANDS. Back then we had only the telephone and the post as means of communication.

Then in early July 2001 we sat down to watch the evening news when the headlining news report was the finding of organs & tissue samples taken from stillborn babies born at The Queen Victoria Hospital in the 1980’s.  These samples had been found stored in the basement of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital after the closure of the QVH in 1995. We were mortified at the thought of this and immediately contacted the hotline number leaving our details.  Several days later we received a telephone call making an appointment at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. 

We met with the Coroner and a Counsellor who confirmed with us that they did indeed have tissue samples belonging to our Vicki.  Twenty-six samples in total, twelve tissue blocks and fourteen slides.  We had many questions that were answered by the Coroner.  We had decided that if these samples were aiding in the research into stillbirths and other issues concerning the unborn then we would allow them to remain with the hospital.  I also asked for a copy of the autopsy report. I also raised my concerns about the approval required for not only the retention of these tissue samples but also the actual autopsy itself.  I had no recollection of signing a form giving my consent for Vicki’s autopsy.  My Husband told me that I was asked to sign the paperwork for this 3 hours after delivery whilst I was still under the effects of sedation.

I will never forget how I felt on the day we walked into the Hospital to meet with the Coroner.  This was my chance to represent my precious baby.  This was the one time I would be able to speak up for her and do something for her.  

In October 2001 I received a letter confirming our meeting with a copy of my Daughter’s Autopsy report.  On reading the report I felt some sort of closure.  I had been told by my Obstetrician that there was no definite reason for my baby dying in utero. The Autopsy report did however state that my baby’s overall development was not at the same stage as her lung development.  To me that meant there was a reason nature had taken it’s course.

In early 2002 I was contacted by the National Ethics and Privacy Policy unit and invited to participate, through consultation, to the changes being made to the National Code of Ethical Autopsy Practice. I met with the Policy Officer for several hours and we discussed my experiences and how they needed to be improved.  Some months later I received a letter thanking me for my input and a copy of the new National Code of Ethical Autopsy Practice.  It included both issues that I had raised in this Code of Conduct.


So now in 2018 I see so many changes in the way in which we deal with the bereavement and loss of a baby. We took part in the Inaugural Centennial Park Celebration on October 15 2017.  That was just so therapeutic. The taking of foot and hand prints, a small lock of hair are just simply wonderful.  For us we have just a couple of ageing polaroid photos. I get some sort of comfort from knowing that the loss  My Husband and I endured has played a small part in some of these changes both ethically and medically.  Our Daughter Vicki may not have lived but her existence has certainly made a footprint.


Tracy Dean   

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