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Dead infant's grandparents want Selby out

'Unforgivable' for health minister to make '94 baby deaths 'political'

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Health Minister Erin Selby isn't apologizing for remarks on 1994 baby deaths.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Health Minister Erin Selby isn't apologizing for remarks on 1994 baby deaths. Photo Store

A reference to the 1994 deaths of 12 babies during heart surgery continues to dog Health Minister Erin Selby, with a family of one of the deceased infants demanding she resign.

Margaret and John Feakes attended the resumption of question period at the legislature Monday -- MLAs were off for spring break -- to confront Selby in the hope of getting at least an apology for a remark they claim needlessly politicized the baby deaths.

The Feakes' grandson, Ashton, died at 15 months after having heart surgery in November 1994.

"It's offensive that she would turn it into a political issue," Margaret Feakes said. "That's unforgivable.

"We know how things were done when they were in office, Mr. Chair. They ignored problems. They swept them under the rug. And it is hard for me to imagine, but they allowed 12 babies to die and still didn't take into consideration what happened to learn from such devastation that those families went through. It was actually left to us to apologize to those families and to bring in legislation to make sure that that didn't happen again."

- Health Minister Erin Selby March during March 26 committee meeting on the health department budget.

"Selby doesn't have a right to politicize the memory of our babies and grandbabies. We only hope that Minister Selby will do the right thing and resign immediately."

The issue goes back almost two weeks to an exchange between Selby and Progressive Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger in a committee meeting on health spending and policy. The topics included the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) air-ambulance helicopter and critical-incident reviews in the health-care system.

In defending her government, Selby told Driedger the NDP brought in critical-incident legislation to address and learn from medical mistakes.

"We know how things were done when they were in office, Mr. Chair. They ignored problems," Selby said, referring to the previous PC government. "They swept them under the rug. And it is hard for me to imagine, but they allowed 12 babies to die and still didn't take into consideration what happened to learn from such devastation that those families went through."

A sweeping review of the 12 deaths, released more than a decade ago, found an inexperienced surgeon without proper supervision, and a failure within the health-care system to properly share information about the deaths internally as they occurred, led to mistakes that ultimately cost the children their lives.

"One of the most effective approaches to risk management is the development of a critical-incident review policy," former chief provincial court judge Murray Sinclair said in his report on the 12 deaths.

Margaret Feakes said she approached Selby directly in the hallway and said Selby told her the remarks she made in committee were taken out of context.

"My exact words were: 'Don't lie to me. I know exactly what you said,' " Feakes said. "I told Minister Selby that she disgusts me because that's what I'm feeling."

Feakes and her husband said they contacted Driedger about a week ago, telling Driedger they were upset about Selby's comment and wanted to do something about it.

Driedger raised the matter in the legislature in an exchange Monday with Selby and demanded an apology.

In the house and in an interview, Selby declined.

"I think I can speak for everyone in this house when I say that I am so sorry for the tragedy that these families have suffered, for the loss that these families have suffered," she said, referring to Feakes and the pediatric heart surgery deaths.

"And it's because of these tragedies -- it was one of the driving forces of this government's decision to move our health-care system away from the culture of secrecy and blame towards a culture of safety and learning so we could prevent things like this from happening to other families."

Selby said her own family had first-hand experience with pediatric heart surgery. Her nephew, now 21, had several open-heart surgeries as a baby.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2014 B3

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