A sanitary worker, who lost his 12-day-old infant, was in for a shock on Monday when he went to collect the body from Government Kasturba Gandhi Maternity Hospital in Triplicane. The infant’s left cheek was completely damaged. The family then refused to take possession of the body.

D. Ranjith is employed in the private conservancy firm Ramkey. Around 4.30 a.m. on August 15, his seven-and-half month pregnant wife Malar was admitted to the hospital. At 6.29 a.m. the hospital declared that she had been delivered of a girl baby, weighing 2.2 kg. According to the relatives, the infant was placed in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“They separated the mother and the baby and they were in different wards,” said Mohanapriya, an aunt of the infant. “Every day they showed us the baby and she was alive. Yesterday, in the evening, they declared the baby dead,” she added. On Sunday, around 5.45 p.m., the hospital staff told Ranjith that the child had died and took his signature on a declaration form. The body was shifted to a room next to the ICU.

Ranjith said that he had seen the body of the infant soon after it died. In the morning when he came to the hospital to collect the body, he was shocked to see the disfigured face of the baby and raised an alarm.

Family members and parents of some children admitted to the hospital alleged that rats had gnawed at the baby’s cheek. Hospital visitors said they regularly spotted cats and dogs loitering in the corridors of the hospital. “They tell us to remove our footwear before entering wards and say we are responsible for the animals and rodents on the hospital premises. But they make no effort to keep the animals out of the premises,” said a visitor.

The hospital authorities had wrapped the infant in a towel and placed it in a nearby room. Resident Medical Officer of the hospital M. Ramesh said as it was a low-birth weight baby and pre-term, it was placed in an incubator.

In the last 12 days the infant had also been administered a unit of blood. “The peeling of the skin on the cheek could be due to septicaemia. We have been taking signatures from the family every day during the treatment. We have instituted an inquiry as to why the body was not handed over to the family immediately after the death. We have also sent the infant’s body to the Government Royapettah Hospital for post-mortem,” Dr. Ramesh said.

According to a senior practising neonatologist, there could be several reasons for the damaged skin. When an infant has been administered intravenous fluids near the neck, infiltration of drugs must be taken into consideration. Also, given the medical condition, the child’s coagulation system could be altered leading to discolouration of the body. Low blood pressure could lead to necrosis of the skin, she added.

Meanwhile, the police outpost in the maternity hospital registered a case of unnatural death under section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code. According to police, the body was handed over to the family after post-mortem and the viscera samples were sent to the forensic laboratory.