ACT News


Mother desperate to return to Syria after losing legal battle over baby’s treatment

A mother who lost a legal battle against the Canberra Hospital over the death of her two-month-old daughter is desperate to return to her family in war-torn Syria.

Mahmoudieh El Cheikh sued the hospital over a series of serious errors involving the care provided to her daughter Yasmine in 2003.

Her baby was taken to the hospital with dehydration in April 2003, the second time she had been admitted in less than a week. She was airlifted to Westmead Hospital in Sydney and later died.

The Canberra Hospital's care was found to be flawed by the former health watchdog, the Community and Health Services Complaints Commissioner.

But the evidence presented by her lawyer John O'Keefe to the ACT Supreme Court failed to establish a link between the hospital's care and her death.

He then tried to change her claim in the ACT Supreme Court seeking compensation for his client's stress and anxiety caused by the her child's treatment. But the application was rejected.


Last year, Ms El Cheikh was denied an act of grace payment to return to her family by ACT chief minister Andrew Barr.

"I understand that the events surrounding the death of Ms El Cheikh's daughter Yasmine would have been extremely difficult and would have caused Ms El Cheikh and her family a great deal of distress," Mr Barr said in a letter to Mr O'Keefe.

Mr Barr said the act of grace payment, which is awarded when the government considers it has a moral obligation to do, was rejected after advice from the ACT government solicitor.

Miss El Cheikh said she continued to feel neglected and was desperate to introduce her five children to her elderly and frail mother, who lives in the coastal city of Tartus, north of Lebanon.

Mr O'Keefe has since launched an online fundraising campaign for El Cheikh – otherwise known as Saanah – to return to her childhood home.

"Saanah was not trying to make money," he said. "She just wanted justice for her dead baby and to win enough money to visit her ageing mother in war-torn Syria, a country she left several years ago to make a better life for her children."

Miss El Cheikh said she said she was not comfortable with the fundraising campaign but had no other option to reunite with her Syrian family and heal the wounds of her daughter's death.

"To be honest, I don't like having to do it this way but I have no choice," she said. "I wish that they would have a big heart and think about it again, no one wants this to happen to a baby."

Miss El Cheikh said the city of Tartus was safe to visit and free from the conflict plaguing other areas of the Middle Eastern nation.

"My mother is living there and she is so old and sick," she said. "I have nieces and cousins that I want to see. You feel so happy when you are with your family in the place you were born."