Article by Tim Clerke in The West Australian, Monday 22 August 2022
For more than 500 days and nights, the parents of beautiful little Aishwarya Aswath Chavittupara have been asking themselves — and those who were supposed to care for their little girl — the same questions.
What happened? What didn’t happen? Why didn’t you treat her? Why couldn’t you save her?
Why did she die? This week, they hope some answers will finally come.
A coroner’s inquest into the death of the beloved seven year-old is scheduled to start on Wednesday.
It will transport the little girl’s family back to the night of April 3 last year, when they took an ailing Aishwarya to the supposedly state-of-the-art $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital.
Her temperature was soaring. Her body was floppy. Her parents were increasingly concerned.
But after hours of waiting in the darkening emergency department, their little girl was dead.
Father Aswath and mother Prasitha have been waiting ever since — for their answers.
“Nothing that has happened to date has shed light on the exact circumstances that occurred that night,” Aswath said this week.
“We remain quite confident that the coroner’s office will be able to dig deeper into a system that is stretched to breaking point, and the policy failures that can result.
“We also want to know how and why it happened in a purported world-class health facility.
“We have said since April last year that no parent should suffer like we did. The main reason for us to be here is to find the truth.”
That truth has been hard to come by, despite all their questions, and the inquiries that have already happened.
An initial internal report conducted by the hospital admitted “a cascade of missed opportunities”. An independent inquiry found hospital staff were “exhausted, demoralised and relatively isolated”.
Then health minister Roger Cook said some 30 recommendations would be “accepted and acted upon immediately”.
To date, just one has been completed - a three-step escalation process dubbed Aishwarya’s CARE Call for parents to use if they are worried their child is getting sicker in hospital.
“The external independent inquiry was a waste of time, according to us,” Aswath said. “The report didn’t reflect most of the issues we raised.
“We appreciate the health department implementing ‘Aishwarya’s CARE Call’, which was the first thing we asked for.
“But when we hear anything about the recommendations or the implementation of them, we usually hear about it from the media. Nothing seems to be coming to us directly.
“I don’t think all the recommendations are being implemented. I have never received an update about it since February 2022. We also have some anecdotal evidence that it is not working as we want it to.
“For example: ‘Sub optimal staffing’ — what is the situation now?
“If the recommendations aren’t implemented it’s only going to be worrying for some other parents.
“We had heard they had set a deadline to implement all the recommendations, and we are not sure why they haven’t done it yet.
“Maybe they might think it’s not important for them.”
And so they turn to the Coroner, and an inquest held in what will be an intense spotlight. Eight days of evidence from nurses, doctors, administrators, experts.
Aishwarya’s parents pray it will bring them the whole truth. But so far, that process has also been difficult — communications have felt “impersonal, cold”.
And an initial listing had the inquest starting on what would have been Aishwarya’s birthday.
“We were quite disappointed about the dates initially, we had to convince the coroners for a new date,” Aswath said.
“We just couldn’t imagine us sitting in the coroner’s court on Aishwarya’s birthday.
“They placed deadlines on us during a period of grieving and we found that harsh and unacceptable.”
And they are still not quite sure what to expect this week.
Medical negligence lawyer Ian Murray, from law firm Blumers, has done his best to steel them for what is to come. Barrister Tim Hammond, acting pro bono, will be the one asking the questions on their behalf.
And another query was added to the list last week, when it was suddenly announced Perth Children’s Hospital boss Aresh Anwar had resigned — 18 months after the Aishwarya’s death, and just two weeks out from the inquest.
“We don’t understand how the health department works,” Aswath said.
“Earlier this year they said Dr Anwar was doing a good job: ‘He is doing his best to bring in the changes.’
“Then we hear he has resigned. We really feel that someone is looking for a scapegoat.
“We would have had a bit more respect for the health department if Dr Anwar had remained as the CEO at least during the inquest, and then accept his resignation.”
Aswath and Prasith have had no choice but to accept what has happened to their family. But they refuse to resign themselves to a tragedy without meaning.
They want answers for themselves. But they want outcomes for the rest of us.
“We will be dedicating the rest of our life to improve our health system,” Aswath said.
“To honour our daughter Aishwarya’s legacy we will be setting up a foundation. Our ultimate goal is to build a big hospital, but we want to start with medical centre first.
“We are hoping one day to bring ourselves to document all this and everything of Aishwarya’s life in a book. That is another chapter in our lives.”
Along with a new child, which is due in around three weeks.