Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Mum dies in childbirth

Hardworking couple had moved to New Zealand to give their kids a better life

The unexpected death of Leah Gayo (inset) leaves husband Norman and daughter Kyla, 10, to cope with newborn Leandro when they return from her funeral. Photo / Doug Sherring
The unexpected death of Leah Gayo (inset) leaves husband Norman and daughter Kyla, 10, to cope with newborn Leandro when they return from her funeral. Photo / Doug Sherring

A two-week-old baby boy is lying alone in Auckland City Hospital after his mother died during childbirth, and his father had to take her body to the Philippines for the funeral.

Leah Gayo was a healthy mum at the end of a normal pregnancy when she arrived at Auckland City Hospital on April 20 to deliver her second child. Two days later, the 32-year-old was dead. Her son Leandro was delivered by emergency caesarean 15 minutes after she suffered a stroke during labour.

Leah's grieving husband Norman, 39, told the Herald on Sunday that a doctor said his wife had an amniotic fluid embolism - a rare and unexpected complication when it's believed amniotic fluid, fetal cells, hair or other debris enter the mother's circulation and cause cardio-respiratory collapse.

Despite emergency treatment, Leah did not recover. There were initial concerns for Leandro, but he was doing well, Gayo said.

Auckland District Health Board spokesman Matthew Rogers said the board was unable to comment without consent from the patient's family but they were feeling for those involved.

On Wednesday, Gayo said he could not understand why his wife died.

"It's shocking, my wife was very healthy. We were so happy because we were going to have a baby."

She had had her labour induced 10 days after her due date, but her pregnancy had been trouble-free.

Leah's midwife was away when the couple arrived at the hospital at 11am on April 20, so another midwife took over her care - she in turn was relieved by another later in the day. "She'd delivered three babies that day."

Labour continued until Leah told him to get the midwife about 1am.

"My wife was in very much pain. The midwife saw the monitor and she called the doctor. The doctor said we need to let the baby come out."

Before that could be done, Leah suffered a stroke and subsequent tests showed she was brain dead.

An autopsy report listed the cause of death as "complications of childbirth, pending further investigations" and the death has been referred to the coroner.

It is the same autopsy finding as the death of another mother, Casey Nathan, who died along with her newborn son during birth a year ago in the Waikato.

Leandro remains in hospital, but is expected to be discharged this week into the care of a foster family until Gayo returns.

Leah was a former teacher but the couple had both worked as bakers since they moved to New Zealand five years ago, wanting a better life for their children.

Members of the New Zealand Filipino community, the couple's church and their workplaces had fundraised to help Gayo pay for the funeral and airfares for himself and the couple's daughter, Kyla, 10, but he was still $3,000 short.

Donations can be made to Westpac account: 03 0155 0684611 025 Tabang Gayo/KBNZ.

- Herald on Sunday

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