The tragic deaths of two new mothers may have been caused by a herpes infection in the finger of one surgeon.
Kimberley Sampson, 29, and Samantha Mulcahy, 32, both died of herpes following cesarean sections by the same doctor in 2018. While the families of the deceased mothers were told by the coroner that their daughters were infected with herpes “prior to hospital admission” and there would be no inquest into their similarly strange deaths, an investigation by the BBC has found there may in fact be a connecting link.
Sampson, a barber and second-time mother, and Mulcahy, a neonatal nurse and first-time mom married to her childhood sweetheart, both had happy, healthy pregnancies before suddenly requiring cesareans.
Sampson’s occurred when her labor stopped progressing on May 3, 2018. Despite being in such great pain that she was unable to walk, she was discharged from the hospital with her newborn son two days after his birth, only to rapidly deteriorate and be rushed back to the hospital days later. Doctors struggled to identify what ailed Sampson before eventually diagnosing her with a catastrophic herpes infection. She passed away on May 22, the BBC reported.
Mulcahy went into labor four weeks early and had her baby delivered by cesarean section at a hospital run by the same Trust as Sampson in July 2018. Her condition also rapidly deteriorated, doctors struggled to stabilize her, they misdiagnosed her as having bacterial sepsis and she passed away days later. The post-mortem showed she’d died from an overwhelming herpes simplex infection.
Both of their children remain healthy, but paper trails found by the BBC suggest their mothers’ deaths were caused by “surgical contamination” possibly by the midwife and surgeon who carried out both women’s C-sections. The virus parts identified in both women were identical, e-mails from a private lab brought in to investigate the deaths show.
The surgeon may have had a herpetic whitlow, or herpes finger infection, that “directly seeded herpes into the abdomen of the women,” UK sexual health consultant Peter Greenhouse told the BBC. “You can never be 100% certain what happened in these cases” but ”from all the evidence that we have, it’s very unlikely that they acquired [the virus] before they got into hospital,” said Greenhouse, who continues to do research into the women’s deaths.
The East Kent Hospitals Trust told the BBC in a statement that the surgeon verbally confirmed he had no history of herpes nor hand lesions, although the publication points out he was not tested for the virus at the time of the operations.