It’s pretty much every parent’s worst nightmare to find out that something is gravely wrong with their child. And for Tessa McAllister, the touch of her infant daughter’s cold hand made her realize that heartache was on the horizon for her family.
Just hours before that moment, though, McAllister had taken her five-week-old daughter to their family doctor, Jeffrey Hans. And although the medical professional agreed that something was wrong with the child, the mom couldn’t get the help her baby desperately needed — because the local hospital had reached capacity.
McAllister herself, meanwhile, had already given birth to three girls – Mya, Chayce and Jade – before the little one’s arrival. And her fourth daughter – whom she shared with her partner Codey Hay – was named Blayke Amelia-Rae Hay-McAllister. Together, the young family lived in Miramichi in New Brunswick, Canada.
What’s more, when Blayke was born in late 2017, her medical records didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. And while, at less than four and a half pounds, the little girl was smaller than the average newborn, she was nevertheless discharged from the hospital in good health.
In March 2018 McAllister would also tell CBC News, “[Blayke] was happy, she was blessed. She had so many people that loved her.” But just two weeks into Blayke’s life, something seemed to be wrong with the child. She was coughing and her breathing was labored; she also had phlegm.
At first, though, McAllister was told that her youngest daughter was experiencing side effects from the cesarian section delivery. In short, Blayke’s birth had left behind mucus that was causing her respiratory issues. When the baby’s symptoms failed to go away, however, the mom-of-four took her daughter for another check-up.
Upon that occasion, doctors determined that the baby had a cold that would simply disappear on its own. But Blayke’s symptoms got worse. And, following an appointment on January 30, 2018, Dr. Hans sent a memo to Miramichi Regional Hospital’s pediatric unit about the young girl.
In the message, Dr. Hans reportedly wrote, “She is currently quite congested and coughing with thick mucus. Could these symptoms be compatible with cystic fibrosis? Anyway, I’d appreciate it if you would assess this infant for me and make sure there is nothing I’m missing.”
But it would be the results of a swab test that would finally reveal what was wrong with the baby: Blayke had respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV. And while the virus typically manifests itself as a mere cold in grown-ups and older kids, it can be a difficult condition for a newborn to fight on its own.
At this point, it had been approximately three weeks since McAllister first contacted medics to find out what was wrong with her daughter. And doctors had examined Blayke five or more times in that period before finding RSV in her system.
McAllister found out her daughter’s test results on February 1; after that, she requested her daughter be admitted to the hospital. The mom later told CBC News that she remembered thinking, “‘My baby’s sick and I don’t think I can do it.’ So I went and said that: ‘I don’t think I can take care of her at home.’”
A call to the hospital gave Dr. Hans and McAllister an unfortunate answer, however: the facility’s emergency wing was inundated with patients already, many of whom were suffering from the flu. “They told [Dr. Hans] there was no room for her,” McAllister said. “So, I trusted she would make it through the night.”
As a result, the mom-of-four would have to bring her baby to the virus-laden ER for help if she wanted it – but her doctor advised against it. “He was my doctor for 34 years and I trusted him,” McAllister explained to CBC News. As a result, she decided to look after her daughter at home that night instead and see Dr. Hans in the morning.
That evening, McAllister held onto her daughter’s tiny body so that she could wipe away any mucus from the baby’s face and pat her back to help clear any congestion. In the early hours of February 2, however, the mom fell asleep on her watch.
McAllister would later tell CBC News, “I’ll never forgive myself for falling asleep.” Why? Well, when she awoke, she reached down and touched her daughter’s hand – and it was cold enough for the mother to know that something was terribly wrong.
McAllister later explained, “I was rubbing [her hand] and it felt colder than normal, and I panicked. I scooped her up and I bawled and I ran and I dropped. ‘Please God. No, please God.’ I was saying every prayer I’ve ever been taught.”
McAllister continued, “And I covered her tighter, and I called 911, even though I wanted to call my mom.” Then an ambulance arrived, five hours before Blayke and her mom had been scheduled to check in with Dr. Hans again. But, sadly, it was too late: the five-week-old had already passed away.
And, understandably, Blayke’s family would go on to seek a response from the overcrowded hospital. “Somebody didn’t do their job,” McAllister said. “And the blame isn’t just on the hospital. It’s on the doctor who should have fought to have her admitted.”
In turn, the hospital would acknowledge that it had experienced an overcrowding problem on the night of Blayke’s death. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the facility would later tell CBC News that “patients needing care will not be turned away. [The hospital] will always provide a bed and care for patients… including when our facilities are in over-capacity.” It remains unclear, then, how the sick newborn fell through the cracks.
Meanwhile, Blayke’s family are awaiting autopsy results on the little girl. And McAllister herself has said that the journey to healing from the loss would be a difficult one. “We’re struggling as a young family,” she said. “We got three other little girls at home, and they’re wondering when their baby sister is coming home. It’s hard to explain.”