Published by BBC NEWS - 29th December 2021

Samantha Mulcahy and Kimberley Sampson

An inquest has been announced into the deaths of two mothers who died from herpes shortly after giving birth.

Kim Sampson and Samantha Mulcahy gave birth by Caesarean section weeks apart at different hospitals that are part of the East Kent NHS Trust in 2018.

A BBC investigation found the two women had been operated on by the same surgeon, and that he may have been the source of the infection.

The trust said it would do everything possible to support the inquests.

Herpes virus infections are extremely common and generally mild. They are known for causing cold sores or genital herpes in some people.

Deaths caused by herpes are almost unheard of in healthy people.

But in May 2018, 29-year-old barber Ms Sampson became seriously ill after her baby was delivered at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.

Doctors struggled to identify what had caused the infection but treated her as if she was suffering from sepsis caused by bacteria.

She was transferred to Kings College Hospital in London where she was diagnosed with a catastrophic herpes infection. She died on 22 May 2018.

Six weeks later, 32-year-old nursery nurse Mrs Mulcahy also died from an infection caused by the same virus, at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

The cause of her illness was not recognised until after she died.

In 2019, the coroner wrote to the two families to say that as the women died of natural causes, and she believed that nothing connected the two deaths, that there would be no inquests.

But a BBC investigation discovered documents that showed the virus that infected the two women was genetically identical.

Peter Greenhouse, a sexual health consultant for more than 30 years, told the BBC the virus was likely to have entered the women’s abdomens during their Caesarean sections.

Samantha Mulcahy and her husband Ryan

In a new letter, seen by the BBC, the area coroner Katrina Hepburn said: “I am now of the view that there is reason to suspect that the infection may have arisen as a consequence of a necessary medical procedure, namely the Caesarean section, and in those circumstances, I have a statutory duty to investigate further.”

The families of the two women have welcomed the announcement.

Kim’s mother Yvette Sampson said: “We’ve wanted this since Kim died in 2018 – it’s been a long time coming. We hope we are finally going to get answers to the questions we’ve always had – both for ourselves and for Kim’s children.”

Ryan Mulcahy, Samantha’s husband said “not knowing what happened has worsened the pain and the suffering from losing Sam”.

Samantha’s mother Nicky hopes the inquest will help the families come to terms with what happened.

“How did Sam and Kim get the virus, and from where? You feel like you are stuck and you can’t move forward because you haven’t got the answers you should have had,” she said.

Dr Rebecca Martin, chief medical officer for East Kent Hospitals, said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the families and friends of Kimberley and Samantha.

“We will do everything possible to support these inquests and our thoughts are with Kimberley and Samantha’s families at this time.”

The inquest will be formally opened on 4 January.

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