Wed | Nov 21, 2018

HOPE flows from TRAGEDY - Mother who loses child in ‘dead baby scandal’ moves to help prevent a repeat

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:46 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

A bacterial outbreak at a local hospital claimed her newborn baby’s life in 2015. That painful experience has led Charlene Roberts to give birth to an idea designed to give babies born prematurely a fighting chance.

Roberts is the founder of KOLS Foundation, which she named in tribute to her daughter Kylie Olivia Laila Stevens, who died less than two months after birth.

Kylie was one of 21 babies affected by the Klebsiella bacteria in 2015. The death of the babies attracted national attention and left Jamaicans numb in what was dubbed the ‘dead baby scandal’.

“At the time when she was born, the hospital that I went to didn’t have a ventilation machine. That’s when I started to read more into it and tried to find out exactly what was happening, and then I found out that the healthcare system for premature babies was horrible,” Roberts told The Sunday Gleaner.

“This actually motivated me to try and start this foundation so that I can donate to other neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and have them probably upgraded to a standard ... so another mother wouldn’t go in and be told that ‘your baby may die because we don’t have a machine’. Because that was what I was actually told,” she added.

NICUs Severely Under-Resourced

Before giving birth, Roberts said that she had no idea that the NICUs in several of the country’s hospitals were severely under-resourced.

“My experience there taught me a lot. I didn’t know that it was that bad, that if a baby was born prematurely, chance of survival in Jamaica is very low. I heard a lot of mothers saying they would prefer to go overseas,” she said, as she noted that Kylie was born at 30 weeks and six days.

“From what I understand, if a baby is born prematurely, they have within three days after birth to get on a ventilation machine,” said Roberts.

“My daughter, she did not get on a ventilation machine until six days after,” she explained.
Roberts has not had any more children since and remains deeply affected by her daughter’s death.

“I had to go to therapy, which is natural, but I ended up stopping because it was getting too emotional talking about it over and over and over. It just put me back in that bad place. I used to go to the graveside like very often, but I had to cut myself off from doing that and I tried to deal with it on my own, but I got support from friends and family,” she said.

There were several thoughts that ran through Roberts’ mind as she watched her daughter’s life come to an end. A plan to start a foundation to help premature babies featured prominently in her thoughts at the time.

“While she was in the hospital, I was thinking about the foundation. I made a promise to her, and not just to her, to help all those premature babies. Hopefully, we won’t have more premature babies being born here,” she said.

On January 24, the non-profit foundation was officially launched, having been registered last year. Now Roberts is in the process of trying to gain charitable status.

She has already started the discussion with the head of some of the hospitals to discuss some of their needs. Through the foundation, she hopes to assist these hospitals to get ventilators, incubators, and medications for the care of premature babies.