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Belgian anaesthetist jailed for causing Brit’s death while drunk



A Belgian anaesthetist has been jailed for three years after a British woman died following a botched emergency Caesarean.

Helga Wauters, 51, was also banned from practising following a court hearing in France on Thursday.

She was found guilty of manslaughter over the death of 28-year-old Xynthia Hawke in 2014.

Wauters pushed a breathing tube into Ms Hawke’s oesophagus instead of her windpipe, investigators said.

She was under the influence of alcohol during the procedure.

Wauters did not appear in court on Thursday. Ms Hawke’s partner, meanwhile, travelled to attend the proceedings in the French city of Pau.

What happened to Xynthia Hawke?

Ms Hawke was admitted to Orthez hospital near Pau in September 2014. She was given an epidural by Wauters, but problems occurred during the birth which meant an emergency Caesarean was needed.

Wauters, a chronic alcoholic, admitted being an alcoholic who started “every day” drinking vodka and water. She also said she had a glass of wine before she was called back to the hospital for the Caesarean.

Witnesses reported smelling alcohol on her when she returned. When she was taken into custody, the alcohol content in her blood was 2.38 grams per litre, or the equivalent of around 10 glasses of wine. 

The 51-year-old was less than two weeks into the job when she inserted the breathing tube incorrectly. She also allegedly used an oxygen mask instead of a ventilator.

Ms Hawke, who is from Somerset in the UK, woke up during the operation and began vomiting and shouting “it hurts”, witnesses said. One nurse told the court the scene was like a war zone.

She suffered a cardiac arrest and died four days after the procedure, but her baby boy survived.

But Wauters denied being solely responsible for the death and insisted other staff were to blame. She claimed the ventilator was not working at the time – but investigators found this to be untrue.

‘Not a doctor’

On Thursday, the court ordered her to pay almost 1.4 million euros (£1.25m; $1.65m) in damages to Ms Hawke’s family.

“Justice has set an example for this type of doctor who, in my eyes, is not a doctor,” her partner Yannick Balthazar said.

Wauters moved to France after she was fired from her job at a Belgian hospital for being under the influence of alcohol.

The recruitment company that hired her did not check her credentials or disciplinary record, investigators said.

“I recognise now that my addiction was incompatible with my job,” Ms Wauters said during an earlier hearing, according to the AFP news agency. “I will regret this death my entire life.”