Coroner to investigate deaths of 2 young moms at Hamilton General
Photo courtesy of Kowch family
Ashly Coville with her daughter Nicole Kowch, 7, and husband Philip Kowch. Coville died of pneumonia on Dec. 26. JENNIFER RYAN Photo courtesy of Christopher Cielecki Jennifer Ryan with son Noah
1 of 21 2 The coroner’s office is investigating the sudden and unexpected deaths of two young moms within three weeks of each other at Hamilton General Hospital.
Normally the coroner’s office doesn’t investigate natural deaths. But it has an “open and ongoing investigation” into “concerns” about how 26-year-old Ashly Coville and 24-year-old Jennifer Ryan died.
“We need to see if there is a commonality,” said regional supervising coroner Jack Stanborough.
He said the investigation could look at anything from public health concerns to quality of care issues to whether anything could have been done to prevent their deaths. An outside expert will investigate the deaths of two young moms who were sent home from Hamilton General Hospital despite worsening flu-like symptoms.
Ashly Coville was 26 and didn’t know she was newly pregnant with her second child when she died Dec. 26 from what her husband was told was pneumonia. Just under three weeks later, 24-year-old Jennifer Ryan died on Jan. 14. Her husband was told the mother of two young sons died of meningitis.
“Given the fact these two young women died so suddenly and unexpectedly we will be reviewing it,” said Dr. Richard McLean, executive vice-president of medical affairs and quality for Hamilton Health Sciences, which operates the hospital. “To have two this close together is unusual. For that reason, the best way is to get someone else in to see if there is anything that can be learned from this. Outside eyes are always better.”
The husbands both wonder whether their wives would still be alive if Hamilton General’s emergency department had taken their symptoms more seriously.
“I want to know what happened,” said Coville’s husband, Philip Kowch. “I want answers. If I don’t make noise, nothing will happen. I fought my whole life for her. I’ll never stop.”
McLean says an initial internal review has determined there was nothing the emergency department or intensive care unit at Hamilton General could have done differently to save the previously healthy young women.
“No one could have predicted what would happen,” said McLean. “Nothing we’ve found to date is causing us to doubt the care we provided.”
Coville went to Hamilton General on Dec. 24 complaining of chest pain, weakness and vomiting. Ryan went the emergency department on Jan. 9 with a high fever, what looked like blisters forming on her back, arms and hands and numbness in her arms.
Both women were treated and sent home.
“To have two like that, there’s something wrong there,” said Ryan’s husband, Christopher Cielecki.
Coville was rushed back to Hamilton General the next day, on Christmas. Ryan was taken by ambulance to Juravinski Hospital two days later, on Jan. 11. Both husbands say they were never told their wives could die.
The women were conscious and talking when their husbands left the hospital.
“She was asking for drinks of water,” said Kowch. “I would never, ever think that would be the last night I would see her alive.”
He gave her money for a taxi in case she was sent home from the emergency department because, he says, no decision to admit her had been made when he left around 9:30 p.m. to take care of their seven-year-old daughter, Nicole Kowch.
Around 6 the next morning, Kowch was awoken by police officers at his door telling him he needed to call the hospital.
“The doctor said to come back right away and don’t waste any time. He said she’s not going to make it.”
She died within 15 minutes of Kowch and his daughter arriving at the hospital.
“There was a breathing machine and she was full of wires and tubes,” he said. “I rubbed her head and held her hand and asked her to stay. I watched her heart rate go down. The nurse came and told me her heart had stopped, and shut the machines down.”
He found out she was six weeks pregnant when he signed the forms authorizing an autopsy.
“She didn’t know,” he said. “She was an awesome mom.”
Kowch and Coville were high school sweethearts who had been together for almost 10 years. She was a waitress at the Eastown Bar and Grill on Barton Street.
“You could lock her in a box with the Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and Superman and she’d be the one who would come out,” he said. “She was very fiery but very loving at the same time.”
Cielecki, too, never imagined his wife’s life was in danger. He was just outside the hospital the day after Jennifer Ryan had arrived by ambulance when he got a call on his cellphone telling him she was critically ill and being transferred to Hamilton General. The florist at Fortino’s House of Flowers in Fiesta Mall and devoted mom to four-year-old Nicholas and 10-month-old Noah died two days later.
“The staff is quite devastated,” said McLean, the hospital executive, about the two deaths. “We appreciate how devastating this is for the families. Our hearts go out to them.”
Hamilton was in the midst of a massive peak of influenza A when both women became ill. Eleven people with flu have died in Hamilton: two children and nine adults, eight of them seniors. It’s not known whether Ryan or Coville is included.
MORE: Peak of flu season over
Hamilton Health Sciences is bringing in an outside expert to review the deaths because it wants make sure it didn’t miss anything that should have been done differently.
“The public needs to have confidence in our emergency department,” said Dr. Bill Krizmanich, chief of emergency medicine. “I have confidence it’s one of the best.”