Frances Cappuccini knew she wanted a caesarean for the birth of her second child.
The UK primary school teacher had suffered a placental tear while giving birth to her first child, Luca, four years earlier. A consultant obstetrician had recommended a caesarean the second time around, and she was booked in to have one. But she went into labour two days before that date.
Her husband Tom says she was “terrified” of giving birth naturally.
“She had been terrified for months in the run-up to giving birth because of the previous experience and what happened,” he told an inquest into her death earlier this week. “She was very certain she wanted me to make sure she had a c-section on arrival.”
But when the couple arrived at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Kent, Tom says the midwives and doctors told them “not to make a decision based on pain and fear”, saying there was no reason Frances could not give birth naturally.
He says midwives had “almost a smirk across their face, almost laughing”.
“I put my trust and Frankie’s trust in the people that were there. They disregarded previous medical advice and we were made to feel small and insignificant,” he says.
“In hindsight, I wish I had never agreed.”
Twelve hours after arriving at the hospital, Frances was rushed into surgery for a c-section. Her son Giacomo was delivered, but a serious error was made. A large piece of placenta was left in the uterine cavity.
While Frances was feeding Giacomo for the first time, she started bleeding heavily between her legs. She was rushed into surgery again, and the piece of placenta was found, but she didn’t come around from the general anaesthetic. Her heart stopped, and she was unable to be revived.
“I had the opportunity to kiss her and tell her how much I loved her,” Tom told the inquest. “She said, ‘I love you, and if anything happens, make sure you look after the boys.’”
The Cappuccinis’ lawyer, Neil Sheldon, says if the c-section had been done as soon as Frances arrived at hospital, possibly by a different surgeon, then that “basic error” may not have been made.
“You have a competent, intelligent, articulate adult patient who has come in and expressed a clear wish for a certain type of treatment,” he said to midwife Julie Ann Michaud.
“Why was that not the end of the matter?”
Michaud claims Frances came in with a feeling of “impending doom”, and denies talking her out of the c-section.
The lawyer for the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, Mike Atkins, says the risk of a piece of placenta being left behind would have been the same, no matter when the surgery took place.
Tom says his wife Frances was “one of the greatest people I am ever likely to meet in my life”.
“She was a great mother, a fantastic wife and she loved looking after Luca. As a teacher, her education background enabled her to give him a good start to his young life.”
Since Frances’s death in 2012, two charities have been set up in her name. One is a project where schoolchildren raise money for malnourished children in Guatemala. The other is a prize at University College London, funding research into childbirth-related deaths.