A Filipino father has vowed to sue the nurse who taped up his newborn son’s mouth and the maternity hospital where it happened, saying they would fight the case “all the way to the top”.
The news triggered outrage after father Ryan Noval posted a now-viral Facebook message about the incident, with photos of his baby with a long strip of translucent tape over his mouth.
They accused a nurse at the Cebu Puericulture Centre and Maternity House (CPMH) in the southern Philippines of initially refusing to remove the tape and of injuring their son’s mouth when she eventually peeled it off.
Filipino-American Noval said he and his partner, Jasmine Badocdoc, “would take legal action against the nurse, whether civil or criminal, and the same goes for the hospital”.
“We’re pushing [this case] all the way to the top,” he told the South China Morning Post in an interview.
The couple are consulting lawyers, he said. It was unclear what charges would be filed.
The hospital has told the Philippine media that the nurse taped the baby’s mouth to keep its pacifier from falling out. The parents refuted this, however, saying the baby could have suffocated.
The CPMH’s medical director has not responded to the Post’s repeated requests for comment.
Noval said it was the couple's first experience with the hospital, which is considered among the top maternity hospitals in Cebu, a bustling port city and the second-most-populous metropolitan area in the Philippines after Manila.
“[The nurse] hasn’t apologised to me … I think the hospital briefed her not to have any contact with us,” he said. “We don’t actually plan to name her publicly. But the hospital has already identified her.”
Noval, who grew up in Los Angeles, California, says the case holds particular importance for a country that has sent nearly 16,000 nurses overseas as of 2012, and produces thousands of nursing graduates every year. He moved to Cebu in 2010 and has been a biking advocate and helps run a tourism business.
Edith Rose Santos, head of the Philippine Nursing Association's Cebu chapter, declined to comment to the Post on the hospital's practices, but described the "alleged child abuse" as an "isolated" case and should not represent the entire nursing population.
Reading from a prepared statement, she said using "a hypoallergenic plaster to a pacifier on a newborn is considerably unacceptable" and that the use of a pacifier is strongly discouraged.
"We urge the public not to judge because the nurse is still presumed innocent unless proven guilty," she said, while urging stricter monitoring of hires and stepping up comprehensive nurses training.
Noval said that on the night of the incident, on May 9, his girlfriend of three years, Jasmine Badocdoc, came home looking perturbed after breastfeeding six-day-old Yohannes at hospital.
The infant, suffering health complications, had to be under special care at hospital and the couple shuttled between the nursery and their home, to take care of their young daughter.
When Noval prodded her, “She said, ‘I have some pictures that you might not like.’”
The cellphone pictures horrified him. “It made me angry and confused. Since it was late at night, we didn’t get to react as quickly as we wanted,” Noval said.
He said Badocdoc reported the case to the front desk as it was late in the evening, when the hospital’s administrative offices are closed.
The couple decided to consult their parents first on what to do. They waited until Noval’s parents, who live in New Jersey, 12 hours behind the Philippines, could be reached.
“They said, ‘Do what it takes to take care of your baby and don’t waste time,’” he said. “We said what if there is any backlash against us? But I decided as a father that I’m going to stand my ground and do whatever it takes to protect my child.”
They posted the Facebook message in the early hours of May 10. Later that day, when the news had began to make headlines and the hospital was facing fierce criticism, they went back to hospital twice, at 9am and around 2pm, to visit their son.
“Even after the incident came out they did stuff to … they did make some changes to their policy already,” Noval said, without elabourating.
The Department of Health has already vowed to investigate, while a probe by hospital management is already under way.
The couple took the baby home on Tuesday. Noval said Yohannes was safe and sound.
“He’s good. He just had his first burp, so he’s good.”