"Neary was drooling like a starving dog with a steak as he removed my womb"
For almost a quarter of a century, Dr Michael Neary carried out a brutal regime on terrified women at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
The shamed obstetrician carried out unnecessary caesarian hysterectomies on scores of women throughout his career, putting them through a violent and unwanted surgery and denying them any hope of having more children.
In one of the greatest medical scandals in the history of the State, he conducted 188 of these surgeries during his reign of terror – an average consultant obstetrician would see five such surgeries in their entire career.
A subsequent report from Judge Maureen Harding Clark found that because of a “culture of respect and fear” his actions went unchallenged for decades.
While many women are still haunted by the actions of the now retired doctor, he walks free.
Now one of these women has bravely published her account of what happened to her at Neary’s hands.
Kerrywoman Kathleen Ward – herself a qualified nurse and medical practitioner – had an unplanned and unnecessary hysterectomy in 1995 after giving birth.
What followed was a dark period filled with debilitating panic attacks and a traumatic reliving of the operation, while she battled for years against misinformation and injustice to seek recognition and compensation.
Her book, A Violation Against Women, tells how she successfully rebuilt her life following the procedure.
And it vividly brings to life how Neary terrified women by telling them they were going to die as he carried out the surgeries.
She can still remember how Neary left her fearing for her life and that of her child. Her husband Peter even bought Neary a gift of Waterford Crystal in thanks, believing he had saved his wife and child’s lives.
“Your uterus is ruptured,” she recalls him telling her in the book. “The baby is lying outside the womb – he is lying on your bladder. You’re in such a mess that I don’t know what I’ll find when I get in there.”
“Having made this declaration he walked away and began to scrub for surgery with his usual smirk, casually jesting with staff, as if all was well and this was just another routine procedure,” she writes.
“As I was now anaesthetised, I could not move – it was a case of kicking someone when they were down. Nobody in the operating theatre spoke about what he had said, or addressed me to comment on it.
“All the while, I assumed that Neary was trustworthy and competent.”
But within seconds of making the incision, events became even more dramatic.
“Dr Neary shouted: ‘Jesus, what have we got here? She’ll bleed to death, there is blood everywhere – we are going to lose them both.’ The assisting Senior House Officer neither replied nor altered his expression following Neary’s declaration.
“I started screaming: ‘Don’t let me die, don’t let me die!’ I was frantic with panic and fear.
“Neary turned towards me, saying: ‘Kathleen, there’s blood everywhere. I will have to do a hysterectomy in a hurry. I’ve got to cut right through your bladder, and I haven’t reached the baby yet. It will be a miracle if he gets out alive. We’ll have to work fast to save your life.’ At that point I must have wakened the dead in the cemetery across the road with my screaming.”
She adds that during this period she was convinced she and her baby were about to die.
“In hindsight I must have passed out at that stage, or was drifting in and out of a semi-conscious state as I felt my life was ebbing away rapidly.
“I was crying profusely, and felt totally shocked. My entire life flashed before me, as I lay there anaesthetised from the waist down. I had no reason to disbelieve Neary, so I thought that I must be about to die. It all sounded so macabre that I felt physically sick.”
She remembers how Neary’s face turned purple as he continued the procedure.
“There were heavy beads of perspiration forming on his forehead and running down his face. He looked purple. Everybody else in theatre seemed composed, with an almost weird sense of normality, as if this were a routine occurrence.
“His facial expression remains as clearly etched in my mind’s eye today as it was then. Reflecting on this, the profuse sweating could be interpreted as a sign of severe stress, even panic, but it also could have been a sign of excitement.
“Nineteen years on, my impression of him is even more clear: he was like a starving dog drooling over a juicy T-bone steak: I was his juicy T-bone steak on that day.”
The doctor’s cruel words continued as her baby was born.
“He finally lifted up my baby, saying: ‘You’ve got another little girl; she must be a survivor because it’s a miracle she’s still alive. I just hope she will be okay because you should both be dead.’ I do not even remember being handed my baby, how long I held her or who took her from me, such was my distress.
“As the theatre doors opened, Peter was standing there. Knowing him from the deliveries of our previous children in Drogheda, Neary extended his hand, saying:
‘Congratulations Peter, you’ve got a baby daughter. We have christened her miracle because they should both be dead, but for now they are both alive.
“Peter thanked him profusely, and later went into Drogheda to buy him a piece of Waterford Glass as a token of gratitude for saving our lives.”
Kathleen, perhaps due to her medical background, became suspicious when her baby showed no signs of distress.
“My daughter’s Apgar score [a health test carried out on all newborns] was not indicative of the near-death infant she was deemed to have been. Her paediatric notes make no reference to a ‘near-death infant’, not even an infant in distress.
“Why did my vital signs [blood pressure and pulse] remain completely stable if I was bleeding so profusely? Why was a blood transfusion not deemed necessary?”
She also claims that the notes on her consent form were changed.
“On receipt of my clinical notes years later, I noticed ‘T.A.H.’ [total abdominal hysterectomy] had been added to my signature, or more accurately, the addition had been forged. I know for certain that this was not written on the form when I signed.
“When was ‘T.A.H.’ added, by whom and on whose instructions? Was this part of the ‘chart altering’ that Judge Maureen Harding Clark would refer to years later in her summation?”
For Kathleen, these are questions that remain unanswered three decades later.