A delivery goes horribly wrong, but is the doctor or hospital at fault?
It’s both a parent’s and a doctor’s worst nightmare—a birth gone wrong. Life is fragile, particularly a newborn’s. Here’s what happened to a Georgia family.
Atlanta parents-to-be Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Sr. were excited to welcome their infant son. 20-year-old Ross went to the Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, Georgia, on July 9th, 2023 to deliver the baby.
Ross was in labor at the hospital for about three hours when the attending physician took her for a cesarean section because a fetal monitor had stopped registering a heartbeat.
However, in a lawsuit filed by the parents against the doctor and hospital, Ross claims that the baby was stuck during delivery and the doctor applied excessive force to the baby’s head and neck to try to deliver him vaginally. She did not move Ross to a C-section earlier when the baby could have survived, even after the couple requested one.
As a result, the baby was decapitated. His legs and body were delivered by C-section but his head was delivered vaginally.
The devastated parents filed a lawsuit for gross negligence, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, along with unspecified punitive damages. The lawsuit claims that the hospital attempted to conceal the baby’s manner of death from the family.
The lawsuit claims the physician did not practice according to medical standards for shoulder dystocia, which is when the baby’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal. Instead, the doctor used excessive traction, resulting in Treveon Jr.’s death.
Ross and Taylor requested to see and hold their baby, but the staff would not allow them to touch or hold him. When they were permitted to view the deceased baby through a window, he was wrapped tightly in a blanket with his head “propped on top of his body in a manner such that those viewing him could not identify that he had been decapitated.”
Could Treveon Jr. have been saved?
Likely, yes. Ross’ attorney said in a statement that when an obstetrician observes shoulder dystocia, they are expected to call for assistance and attempt several maneuvers in order to release the shoulders and safely deliver the baby.
Ross’ physician did not do this. She applied traction instead. But she pulled so hard on the baby’s head and neck that the bones in his skull, face and neck were broken. Even when the fetal monitor showed that the baby’s heart rate had slowed, the doctor did not prescribe a C-section for several more hours. She also did not attempt any resuscitative measures.
The family’s lawyer, who is also a physician, said that, “This baby would not have been injured at all if they had called a stat C-section at the proper time.”
The other part of the lawsuit is related to the deception and fraud claims, separate from negligence associated with the actual procedure. The doctor never told Ross and Taylor how their baby died—only that Treveon Jr. had died in childbirth. The hospital urged them to have him cremated and informed them that an autopsy would have to be at their own expense.
It was only after Ross had her infant sent to a funeral home that she learned his actual cause of death; three days after he died, the funeral home informed her that he had arrived decapitated. When the parents then inquired about this to the doctor, the doctor acknowledged that she’d not told them to “spare them” the details of his death.
Georgia state law requires doctors and medical staff to report certain hospital deaths to the medical examiner, but they did not report it. The medical examiner was notified of the baby’s condition by the funeral home.
What should have happened, and why might this be medical malpractice?
A doctor should diagnose shoulder dystocia if three conditions are present:
- The baby’s head delivered but the mother isn’t able to push out the shoulders.
- There has been at least one minute from the time of the head emerging and the body has not.
- The baby needs medical intervention to deliver successfully.
However, the doctor can and should observe certain factors that could raise the likelihood of shoulder dystocia:
- Fetal macrosomia, which is a baby who weighs more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces. You can’t weigh a baby on a scale prior to birth, but ultrasounds can provide a fairly accurate estimate of a baby’s weight while still in the womb.
- The baby is not positioned properly for a smooth exit from the birth canal.
- The mother’s pelvic opening is too narrow to accommodate the size of the baby.
- The mother’s labor positioning limits the space in her pelvis.
Treating shoulder dystocia
An obstetrician has ways of anticipating shoulder dystocia before it happens or as it’s happening. If it begins to happen, the obstetric team in the delivery room will leap into action to get the baby out fast. First, they might try interventions or maneuvers like changing the position of the woman’s body in order to widen the pelvis. They might want to reposition the baby in order to free their shoulders.
An episiotomy is an incision in the perineum that makes the vaginal opening larger. The doctor might perform this procedure in order to allow the baby’s shoulders to pass through.
The McRoberts maneuver
The doctor might press the woman’s legs against her abdomen, which can flatten and rotate the pelvis. This is usually performed by two people—either a doctor and nurse or a support person—with one on either side of the birthing woman, each holding one leg. This maneuver has been shown to be successful in releasing the shoulders.
The Gaskin maneuver is another technique that doctors use to treat shoulder dystocia. This would mean that the mother turns onto her hands and knees to better position her pelvis for delivery.
Pressure applied to the woman’s abdomen above the pubic bone could cause pressure on the baby’s shoulder that rotates it enough to deliver.
Entry or arm maneuvers
The doctor might attempt an internal rotation by reaching into the vagina to turn the baby. Alternately, they could try to remove one of the baby’s arms from the birth canal in order for it to be easier for the shoulders to pass through.
If all else fails…
If none of these methods are successful, the doctor might intentionally break the baby’s clavicle (collarbone) to get the shoulders through. Alternately, they might push the baby’s head back into the uterus and perform an emergency Cesarean section. They might also make an incision between the mother’s pubic bone to enlarge the pelvic opening.
What’s next for Treveon’s parents?
The case will likely wind its way through the legal system for months or years. It will involve experts and witnesses, and there are multiple defendants. While it seems like the case is cut and dried, the hospital, doctors and nurses named in the lawsuit will mount a strenuous defense.
If your baby suffered a birth injury of any kind, you might be able to receive compensation. Contact a qualified and experienced birth injury lawyer for more information and guidance.