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Portugal’s ‘Baby Without a Face’ Induces Widespread Panic

— November 4, 2019

Portugal physician fails to spot severe defects during mother’s ultrasound scans.

Portuguese physician, Dr. Artur Carvalho, has been suspended by the medical council for delivering a baby boy, Rodrigo, without eyes, nose, or part of his skull.  According to the boy’s parents, Carvalho never mentioned seeing any abnormalities even though the mother underwent three ultrasounds that he performed during the pregnancy.  Even during a fourth, 5D, scan during the sixth month of pregnancy, the parents asked the doctor if there were any abnormalities which he denied.  The defects were present in this more in-depth scan, but Portugal’s physician reportedly said the scan was inaccurate.

“He explained that sometimes some parts of the face are not visible [on ultrasounds]…when the baby’s face is glued to the belly of the mother,” the baby’s aunt said.  The defects would have been visibly present as early has twelve weeks into the pregnancy.  Rodrigo was only expected to live for a few hours, but he has pulled through over the course of the past few weeks.

Portugal's 'Baby Without a Face' Induces Widespread Panic
Photo by Christin Noelle on Unsplash

The parents submitted a malpractice complaint to the Portuguese Prosecutor’s Office.  The Portugal medical council, Ordem dos Medicos, suspended Carvalho for six months to give time for the office to investigate the matter.

Since news of the doctor’s suspension became well-known, several other complaints against him have come to light.  One family said their child, born in 2011, was delivered without a chin, and with inverted legs, fused toes, and severe brain injuries.  Again, Carvalho failed to spot any defects.  The parents filed a case, which was ultimately dismissed after an investigation concluded that the problems would have been hard to decipher during pregnancy.  The mother, Laura Afonso, said the girl, now 8, has had multiple surgeries but still cannot speak or walk.

There are also five other pending complaints against Carvalho.  Other complaints against the physician include the case of a woman whose child was born with severe cerebral palsy.  Carvalho reportedly “refused to observe her despite her complaints of pain, telling told nurses to give her tea, biscuits and a painkiller.”

Alexandre Valentim Lourenco, the medical council chief for Portugal’s southern region said, “There is strong evidence that Carvalho did not properly care for his patients.”  He added, “Given the impact of this case, which has repercussions on the reputation of doctors the suspension was necessary to evaluate the complaints.  Lourenco added, “Carvalho’s suspension will hopefully reassure pregnant women now that he is no longer practicing.”

Even though Rodrigo’s condition is rare and Carvalho had other complaints filed against him, the ‘social alarm’ generated by Portugal’s case of “a baby born without a face” has reportedly generated widespread panic in soon-to-be Portuguese parents, and confidence in the health care provided to carry out routine ultrasounds is at an all-time low.  The news has been so impactful, that Miguel Guimarães, head of the national doctor’s association, has issued a public apology on national television “that a situation like this could have happened.”  Guimarães asked, “Who checked this clinic regularly?  Who drew up the contract signed between the clinic and the regional health administration?”  He reports there are “at least 1,400 complaints in the pipeline” over care received in these units throughout southern region of the country alone.


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