A Mississauga couple is still seeking answers a year after their newborn daughter was given the wrong breast milk while a patient in a neonatal intensive care unit at a Toronto hospital.

“I want to know why they say the system is safe when that happened,” said Gabriele Forneris, whose daughter was born prematurely on May 22, 2022, weighing just 770 grams.

The infant was transferred to Sunnybrook Hospital and moved to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Health Center in Toronto on June 17.

Global News has agreed not to report the girl’s first name, or the mother’s name, at the family’s request.

On July 1, Forneris came to visit his daughter at St. Joseph’s Health Centre. He says he found an empty bottle of breast milk in the room. The label on the bottle had another name, not his wife or daughter’s.

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Forneris says he asked the nurse what happened. She initially denied giving the wrong breast milk, but later acknowledged what happened, she said.

“She came back a few minutes later and said, ‘I made a terrible mistake,’” said Forneris.

At the time, Forneris said he and his wife wanted to meet with the pediatrician to discuss what happened and were reassured their daughter’s health was not at risk as a result of the error.

However, on July 3, he said the infant girl later tested positive for cytomegalovirus, commonly known as CMV. The virus spreads through bodily fluids, including breast milk.

While it can’t be proven, based on timing, her parents believe she contracted the virus from consuming the wrong milk.

According to the Mayo Clinic, CMV could contribute to hearing loss and developmental delay in babies. A small number of babies may develop vision problems, it says.

Forneris says he and his wife are concerned about the long-term effects of the virus.

St. Joseph’s Health later acknowledged the mistake in a letter to the couple and apologized for the family’s “poor experience”.

In a written statement to Global News, the hospital claims it has “taken action to learn from this experience and review the processes we have in place”.

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The family is seeking concrete assurances that St. Joseph’s Health Center will improve its practices around breast milk.

“When patients are given clear, concise answers and can understand the mistakes they’re less likely to file complaints or bring a lawsuit,” said Paul Harte, a medical malpractice lawyer.

Harte says at a hospital level, it can be difficult to get accountability.

“Often times, like in a case like this, it’s a systemic issue; hospitals are responsible for that and there’s not an effective body overseeing hospitals in the same way as bodies overseeing doctors and nurses and other health care professionals,” Harte told Global News in an interview.

Harte said there have been mix-ups with breast milk “for decades” and that many institutions use bar codes to label milk rather than rely on hand-written or type-written names on containers.

Forneris says he and his wife aren’t seeking monetary damages from the hospital but want to know that another child won’t get the wrong breast milk in hospital.

“For the sake of my daughter and other babies I want to be sure.”

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