Minister apologizes to Italian woman whose delivery of a son was botched as 2 doctors fought

MESSINA, Sicily (AP) — Italy's health minister traveled to Sicily on Monday to apologize to a woman whose delivery of a son was botched when her two doctors got into a fistfight in the operating room.

Laura Salpietro, 30, had to have her uterus removed and her son, Antonio, suffered heart problems and possible brain damage following his birth Thursday in Messina's public hospital, Italian news reports said.

Health officials and Salpietro's husband, Matteo Molonia, said the two doctors disagreed about whether to perform a cesarean section and fought while Salpietro was in labor. Molonia said that delayed the C-section by over an hour, leading to complications for mother and son.

The fistfight occurred at a state hospital between a doctor who works there and a private physician Mrs. Salpietro paid as her gynecologist.

Prosecutors have placed five doctors under investigation, and Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio visited Salpietro on Monday in the hospital to apologize.

"I tried to give her words of hope, and above all I tried to tell her that the government was with her and her family at this time," Fazio was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

The incident was the latest evidence of medical mistakes frequently reported in southern Italian hospitals, and it underscored Italians' increasing use of private doctors if they can afford them. Italy has universal health care, but some Italians use private doctors to avoid long waits for procedures.

Fazio said the botched delivery raised questions about this increasing intermingling of private doctors working in public hospitals. While many women choose to deliver in private clinics, some who have private doctors give birth in public hospitals equipped with neonatal units and other emergency facilities not always available in private clinics.

The case also cast a fresh spotlight on the unusually high C-section rates in southern Italy. Some 38 percent of all births in Italy are done by C-section, more than twice the 15 percent recommended by the World Health Organization.

In Sicily, however, the average is 52 percent. In Campania — the southern mainland region that includes Naples — it reaches 60 percent, Fazio noted.

Earlier this year, the WHO reported that China had registered the highest C-section rate in the world at 46 percent, a quarter of them medically unnecessary.

The United States is recording record C-section rates as well, with one-in-three mothers undergoing the procedure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.