My partner died the day our baby was born and it could have been prevented

Rebecca Moss with her daughter Harper
'At a time when life felt beyond my control, caring for Harper got me through,' writes Rebecca - Asadour Guzelian

Rebecca, 37, works in PR and lives in Manchester with her one-year-old daughter Harper. Her partner, Tom Gibson, 40, died on the day she was born

When I first suspected I was pregnant Tom was so excited we immediately went to the nearest Tesco to buy a test. Seeing those two blue lines appear was pure joy. After the three-month scan we made Christmas cards featuring two pairs of wellington boot footprints (for us), paws for our dog Bonnie, and tiny feet to announce our impending arrival.

Later scans showed we were having a daughter, who we called Harper, due in June 2023. Tom worked in a timber yard so was brilliant with his hands, spending happy weekends decorating the nursery at our Manchester home. Grinning, he’d proudly show off his baby-proof shelves, delighting in my growing bump.

We’d been together since mutual friends introduced us on a night out in 2016. We’d laughed because we’d chatted before on a dating app but hadn’t made an actual date. I was so pleased we’d got it together because Tom became the love of my life – charming and kind, funny and family-orientated. We moved in together after a year, then bought a house and planned to marry once Harper arrived.

'Tom became the love of my life': Rebecca with her late husband Tom
'Tom became the love of my life': Rebecca with her late husband Tom

The pregnancy was straightforward, apart from Harper lying in the breech position. Not wanting a c-section (which seems unimportant now), Tom presented me with an acupuncture course to try and turn her, and giggled over funny “spinning” methods with me adopting strange positions hoping she’d turn.

Three weeks before our due date, Tom became very unwell with food poisoning. He was always so fit – his job was physical, his lifestyle healthy – but he had terrible diarrhoea. He couldn’t get an in-person appointment but submitted a stool test and had two phone calls – he was told to eat bland food and use rehydration sachets. I worried though, it was unlike him to be ill.

Then he noticed blood in his stool. He rang the surgery again but the advice was the same. He couldn’t work, he could barely leave the loo, so 11 days before my due date we rang 111 – and were advised to go to A&E. I couldn’t risk catching it while pregnant, so his brother took him to Wythenshawe Hospital, me packing him off with a list of his symptoms in case he was in too much pain to properly talk to doctors.

Tom, who was always fit, became very unwell with food poisoning three weeks before the couple's due date
Tom, who was always fit, became very unwell with food poisoning three weeks before the couple's due date

At the hospital Tom learned that the GP stool test showed he had a food poisoning called campylobacter, for which you only need antibiotics if you are struggling, according to the NHS. Because his heart rate had dropped worryingly low at A&E, he also had an electrocardiogram (ECG). But when he was sent home hours later there was no mention of any ECG results in his discharge notes – the only advice passed onto the GP was regarding the stomach bug. We had no idea anything was wrong with his heart.

As my due date approached Harper was still breech and an elective caesarean was confirmed for June 7. Tom was still so poorly – there was no way he was well enough to be at her birth.

I was devastated and so was he. But I put on my bravest face. I told Tom not to worry, he could make it all nice for us at home and that we’d have years ahead of our baby together. I asked my mum to come with me instead. The night before, Tom put my hospital bag in the car for me and checked the new car seat. Then, I settled him on the sofa with a duvet, kissing him gently on the head, reassuring him that we’d be reunited as a family of three the next day: “Night night, big day tomorrow.”

Rebecca and Tom
Tom had an electrocardiogram (ECG) as part of his tests, but there was no mention of any ECG results in his discharge notes

Tom was usually an early riser. So when I woke up at 5.15am to get ready for hospital, I was surprised I couldn’t already hear him. I went downstairs to the living room and there he was on the sofa, in his usual sleeping position. I imagined he was feeling poorly and needed cheering up. “Wake up, it’s baby day!” I cried, waiting for him to make a joke. Then I went to kiss him, but when I touched his face he was cold and completely stiff. He wouldn’t wake.

I didn’t scream, I just froze, my mind kicking into some weirdly calm crisis mode. I rang 999 and they told me to put Tom on the floor and do chest compressions. He was heavy and stiff but somehow, negotiating my huge belly and kicking aside the coffee table, I dragged him to the ground and started CPR. I was pressing so hard I feared I’d break him, but I carried on until the ambulance arrived. In my heart I knew he was gone. Then, the paramedic said the words: “I’m sorry Rebecca, Tom has passed.”

The hours that followed were surreal. My brother Neil arrived at the house to deal with the police and paperwork. I remember going to the hospital with my mum. The hospital offered to delay the c-section but I needed Harper safely in my arms that day. I was terrified she would die too. They offered me a general anaesthetic but I wanted to be awake for her birth. Tom and I had longed for it all these months.

People ask me how I coped that week – truthfully, I have no idea. But when your life upends, you find a way.

I was in shock. I didn’t understand how this could have happened. Tom had just had a really bad stomach bug. You don’t die from a stomach bug.

Coming home without Tom was beyond comprehension. I remember feeding Harper and crying. My family had taken the sofa where he’d died away and it was many months before I could sit in that room.

Rebecca: 'However many tears I shed, I didn't allow myself to fall apart. I went into survival mode'
Rebecca: 'However many tears I shed, I didn't allow myself to fall apart. I went into survival mode'

It was a year ago this month since that June day that I lost Tom and Harper was born. Life doesn’t stop because you’re grieving. There was a lot of admin to deal with. I needed a birth certificate and a DNA test to prove Tom was the father so his name could be added to Harper’s birth certificate. I got a phone call from the coroner’s office to go through the post-mortem results and the cause of death (sudden cardiac arrest). There wouldn’t be an inquest. The case was closed.

However many tears I shed, I didn’t allow myself to fall apart. I went into survival mode. Even on the day of his funeral, I channelled Tom’s positive energy and it was a beautiful day, full of memories. I didn’t want to take any medication. I wasn’t – and I’m still not – ready for therapy. Having a newborn has been the best distraction I suppose.

At a time when life felt beyond my control, caring for Harper got me through. But I couldn’t shake this feeling in my stomach that what happened to Tom wasn’t right.

Then, a few months after Tom’s funeral, I got a call from the coroner’s office. They told me that the hospital trust had reopened the investigation about Tom’s first A&E visit. I soon realised I needed legal representation to help me. I needed to make sure I got answers about how and why Tom died.

Rebecca and Harper
Rebecca sought representation from CL Medilaw after learning that the hospital trust had reopened the investigation about Tom's first A&E visit - Rebecca Moss

Revisiting the details of Tom’s death made me horribly anxious and angry. I learned that the ECGs Tom had taken on that very first A&E visit had shown a complete heart block. A junior doctor had raised it with his registrar, who’d then allowed Tom to go home.

Over the following months information came through in dribs and drabs. It was horribly painful every time. They went over Tom’s medical records and post-mortem results and witness statements were taken from clinicians involved in his case. They were all brought together in a chronological bundle with investigation reports from the trust – ready for the inquest.

Then, on the anniversary of his death and the week of Harper’s birthday, the inquest confirmed that Tom’s death could have been prevented. Knowing that was agony.

It was an incredibly emotional two days. I learned exactly what had gone wrong in the lead up to Tom’s untimely death. A hospital doctor had misinterpreted the ECG scan, which had shown a complete or “third-degree” heart block. It’s the most serious kind which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Tom’s body, already compromised by this underlying condition, was further weakened by the stomach bug.

If the scan had been properly interpreted at the time, Tom would have had a pacemaker fitted. That would have saved his life.

When Harper is old enough I will tell her all about her dad and how proud he would be, writes Rebecca
When Harper is old enough I will tell her all about her dad and how proud he would be, writes Rebecca - Asadour Guzelian

Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust made a full admission of liability. The next step is working out the amount of compensation Harper and I are entitled to. No money in the world will give Harper her dad back, but I need to make sure I can take care of her in the future and I hope lessons will be learned that might save other lives.

When you lose someone who is at the centre of your whole world, life still has to carry on. I have just gone back to work after maternity leave, and when Harper took her first steps two weeks ago she walked towards Tom’s picture, which I took as a sign he was with us and watching over us.

When she is old enough I will tell her all about her dad and how proud he would be. I want her birthday to always be a day of celebration and not sadness, so I’ve decided that June 7 will be Harper’s day, and we will remember Tom on his birthday instead. Every milestone will be tinged with the pain that he isn’t here to see it, but we can only look forward in life, and know that he forever lives on in our daughter.

As told to Susanna Galton