Rodrigo: A baby born without a face in Portugal

In Portugal, a baby is born without a nose, without eyes and with a missing part of the skull. The obstetrician who was providing medical care for the mother was suspended.

The parents of baby Rodrigo were not aware of the severe physical abnormalities of their son before his birth at the beginning of the month. But Medical council officials voted to suspend Dr. Artur Carvalho due to allegations of negligence. Other complaints, dating back more than a decade, have been filed for other babies.

These cases, detailed by the Portuguese media, provoked widespread anger. Dr. Carvalho did not publicly comment on any of the allegations.

What happened to Rodrigo?

Rodrigo was born on October 7 at São Bernardo Hospital in Setúbal, about 40 km south of Lisbon.

Dr. Carvalho had followed his mother. She did three ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy in a private clinic, and the parents say that the doctor did not raise any concerns about the health of the fetus.

The mother would then have undergone a fourth, more detailed 5D ultrasound in another clinic when she was six months pregnant. During this analysis, the possibility of anomalies was raised, but Dr. Carvalho allegedly did not take these concerns into account.

“He explained that sometimes parts of the face are not visible to ultrasound when the baby’s face is stuck to the mother’s belly,” Rodrigo’s aunt told AFP. After the birth of Rodrigo and the discovery of his anomalies, his parents would have been told that he would only survive for hours.

However, more than two weeks later, the boy is still alive and under surveillance at the hospital. His parents allegedly lodged a complaint against Dr. Carvalho with the Portuguese public prosecutor’s office.

What are the other cases?

With the resentment caused by the baby case Rodrigo, other complaints against Dr. Carvalho have been uncovered. At least six medical complaints dating from 2013 are currently being filed against him, according to health authorities.

Other parents followed suit to share their personal stories with the Portuguese media about Dr. Carvalho’s alleged failure to detect health problems in their pregnancies. In one case, a baby was born in 2011 with a disfigured face, deformed legs, and severe brain damage.

The mother, named Laura Afonso, told the newspaper Publico that she had filed a criminal complaint against the doctor, but a prosecutor rejected it. Now eight years old, her child has undergone multiple operations but still can not talk or walk, she says.

Another criminal case in which the child died months after his birth in 2007 would also have been rejected without having been judged, reports Publico.

What was the reaction?

The growing scandal provoked outrage in Portugal. It raised questions about the functioning of the country’s health system, as well as complaints procedures. Miguel Guimarães, president of the Portuguese medical association (Ordem dos Médicos), gave a press conference last week in which he said he had contacted Dr. Carvalho directly, given the “social alarm” caused by this case.

The doctor, he said, had agreed to stop performing the procedures while the investigations were continuing. The Disciplinary Board of the body then met earlier this week and unanimously decided that Dr. Carvalho should be suspended for six months while investigations continue.

“There is strong evidence” of the negligence of the doctor, which “may lead to a disciplinary sanction,” said Alexandre Valentim Lourenco, chief of the medical council for the southern region, to a local media after the announcement of the decision.

Mr. Lourenco said he hoped that the suspension would help “reassure” pregnant women about this scandal.

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