A young would-be mom whose newborn died during an allegedly rough hospital delivery is seeking answers and considering legal action against her hospital and obstetrician.
Tatyana Phillips, 18, of Houston, Tex., headed to the hospital on Nov. 4, just a week before her due date, to give birth to her first child. “It was an uneventful pregnancy,” her attorney, Chance McMillan, tells Yahoo Parenting. But the birth, he says, was anything but: Phillips’s baby boy became “stuck in the birth canal,” he explains, and the young woman’s father and aunt requested that the obstetrician, Dr. June Coleman, perform a C-section. Instead, they say, she used a vacuum extractor and broke the baby’s clavicle in order to help assist with the vaginal birth. But Phillips’s son, named D’Mauri, did not survive.
“I anticipate they’ll say he was stillborn,” McMillan, who did not permit his client to speak with Yahoo Parenting on Wednesday, says. “But on the discharge papers, Dr. Coleman says ‘live birth’ and gives him an Apgar score.”
Coleman did not return a call seeking comment from Yahoo Parenting. A spokesperson for the East Houston Regional Medical Center provided the following statement: “We are aware of this tragic situation and extend our deepest sympathy to the family of D’Mauri. As always in a situation like this the hospital is conducting an extensive review to determine what actually happened and if there are areas in which we can improve the care we provide.” No specific details were provided, in an effort to protect “the confidentiality and privacy our patients deserve.”
Tatyana Philips (Photo: Family of Tatyana Phillips)
But Phillips’s aunt, Kendra Rainey, posted a lengthy and gruesome description of the birth on her Facebook page this week, along with photos of the deceased infant. The post, since deleted (but captured in various screen shots), explained that the young woman went to the hospital, received an epidural, and was eventually met by Coleman, who appeared to be rushed and was “dressed as if she was going dancing.” After lots of pushing, the post continued, Coleman reached inside Phillips to change the baby’s position and unwrap the umbilical cord from around his neck.
“His head was now out and stuck,” Rainey wrote, adding that “nine to ten staff members” were called in to assist. After four hours, family members requested a C-section; instead, according to the account, the doctor began the vacuum suctioning “without permission,” a process which “took chunks out of his head” and caused the baby to “turn purple.” Coleman then announced she had to break the boy’s clavicle to get him out, and when the 9-pound, 7-oz. boy did come into the world, he was silent, although the doctor “suctioned his nose as if nothing as wrong,” Rainey wrote. “She gave [Phillips] the news that he had died and tried to insinuate he was stillborn. … The next day the hospital asked her to donate his eyes.”
The family is now in process of gathering more information from the doctor and the hospital in preparation for legal action, says McMillan, adding that Coleman has in the past been disciplined and fined by the Texas Medical Board, which ruled that she had “inappropriately attempted to perform a vacuum delivery.” He said, “My phone has been ringing off the hook with people complaining about the doctor and wanting me to represent them. One baby wound up brain-damaged.”
Phillips with baby D’Mauri, after he had died. (Photo: Kendra Rainey)
According to Dr. Gil Weiss, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago (who has no knowledge of the specifics in Phillips’s case), there are risks that come with both vacuum deliveries and C-sections — and even more so in a case like this one, which would have been a “late second-stage C-section,” and posed the risk of hemorrhaging, which is one reason a doctor might have opted for vacuuming instead.
Choosing a form of operative delivery — vacuum or forceps, which vary in popularity depending on the region — would be indicated in three main instances, Weiss explains to Yahoo Parenting: If the second stage of labor, or pushing, is long (traditionally more than three hours, although there’s no official deadline now); if a fetal status is troubling (such as a falling heart rate); and if the mother has certain risks — such as cardiac disease — that would impede pushing. When to use operative delivery, Weiss says, is a “tough call,” although the methods are “underutilized and have gotten a bum rap,” likely because they’re not taught at many hospitals anymore. “It used to be a skill set, but it’s become more of an art,” he said.
Deciding between assisted deliveries and C-section, Weiss says, “is a discussion,” and is based on various factors, including the baby’s position and size. “But both methods are not without risk,” he said. Vacuuming, for example, can cause bruising, lacerations, and even internal bleeding in babies.
In Phillips’s case, he says, it appears as if the baby was wedged in the birth canal because of shoulder dystocia — when a shoulder gets stuck — although it’s unclear whether this happened naturally or whether the vacuuming caused it. In severe cases of shoulder dystocia, Weiss says, “One traditional method [to solve it] is to break the clavicle.” Newborn clavicle fractures that happen naturally during the birth process, meanwhile, while very rare, are the most common form of birth injury.
What investigators will likely look for here, he said, is whether the shoulder dystocia or the operative delivery was what ultimately contributed to D’Mauri’s death.
“This is a tragic outcome, and very rare,” Weiss says, “and one that’s very hard for everyone to live with.”
(Top photo: Family of Tatyana Philips)