A Georgia couple filed a lawsuit last week alleging their child was decapitated during delivery by a doctor who used too much force.
Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor Sr. are suing both the Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale and their obstetrician, Dr. Tracey St. Julian, who is not employed by the hospital, after she allegedly applied “ridiculously excessive force” trying to deliver the baby with shoulder dystocia, according to their attorney, Roderick Edmond. The infant did not survive.
According to the lawsuit, Ross’ water broke around 10 a.m. on July 9 and she arrived at the hospital 10 minutes later. By 8:40 p.m., Ross was fully dilated and was instructed to push. However, the baby did not properly descend, the lawsuit says, most likely because of shoulder dystocia, which occurs when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone.
Premiere Women’s OB/GYN, St. Julian’s practice, did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Southern Regional Medical Center said in a statement that it denies “the allegations of wrongdoing” and that “this unfortunate infant death occurred in utero prior to the delivery and decapitation.” The hospital also said it voluntarily reported the death to the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office and is “cooperating with all investigations.” The lawsuit says the couple were discouraged from getting an autopsy.
Shoulder dystocia occurs in roughly 3% of vaginal deliveries, and it typically happens to women who have reached full term, said Dr. Kiarra King, an OB-GYN in Illinois who is not involved in the case. Risk factors for babies experiencing shoulder dystocia include the mother’s having diabetes or being short in stature. Ross, 20, had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in July 2022, and her pregnancy was considered high-risk, the suit says.
Another risk factor for shoulder dystocia would be whether the baby weighs more than 4,000 grams, or 8 pounds, 13 ounces. (According to the lawsuit, Ross’ baby weighed 7 pounds, 6 ounces upon delivery.)
While doctors are able to point out possible risk factors, shoulder dystocia is “not something that we can fully predict,” King said.
Edmond, the couple’s attorney, said nurses and other health care providers in the hospital should have had protocols to deal with the problem. According to the lawsuit, both St. Julian and the nurses “did not meet the standards of care.”
King said she uses guidelines set by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to determine whether patients with risk factors such as diabetes and a larger baby would meet criteria to undergo a C-section for the prevention of a shoulder dystocia.
Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, an OB-GYN and founder of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, said that even in the moment, the doctor, the nurses and other staff members “should have agreed that the patient was deserving of a C-section.” Crear-Perry and King were not involved in Ross’ medical care.
Ross and Taylor, 21, asked for a cesarean section “while the baby was viable,” Edmond said at a news conference last week, reiterating the allegations in the couple’s suit. Instead, Ross pushed for three hours without delivering her baby, the suit says, and St. Julian tried to deliver it vaginally using different methods, one of which included applying traction to the baby’s head.
According to the lawsuit, the fetal monitor showed an abnormal fetal heartbeat starting at 9:26 p.m., and the heart rate continued to decrease until 10:36 p.m. There was no sign of a fetal heartbeat on the monitoring strips by the time St. Julian performed an emergency C-section at 11:49 p.m., the lawsuit says. The baby’s body was delivered at 12:11 a.m.
St. Julian’s alleged “tremendously excessive tension traction” on the head and neck of Ross’ baby, named Treveon Isaiah Jr., resulted in multiple skull and facial bone fractures and hemorrhaging on his neck and brain and around his spinal cord, according to the suit.
Crear-Perry said that she has used instruments like forceps and vacuums to help patients with the pushing but that if they prove unsuccessful, C-sections are ordered.
In 2020, the infant mortality rate during delivery in the U.S. was 5.4 deaths for every 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional data shows that the rate was highest among Black babies, at 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.
While the way Ross’ baby died is “incredibly rare, they can happen, but they don’t typically,” King said.
The family is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages for the baby’s life, along with Ross’ physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering, according to the suit. Since the incident, Edmond said, the couple have been in “bad shape” and are attending counseling because they have been “psychologically traumatized.”
Millicent Rose, a trauma specialist and professor of clinical psychology at Pepperdine University, said: “With medical trauma, we’re really mindful that one of the things that can compound onto symptoms is when we know that it could have been preventable. It occurs due to negligence or at the hands of another person.”
The hospital said in a statement that it is unable “to discuss the care and treatment of specific patients” because of patient privacy laws.
Holding a child after birth is a “rite of passage for any mother,” Rose said. Robbing mothers of that opportunity after loss can cause prolonged grief. The central nervous system interaction between mother and child is also necessary for the mother’s healing, regardless of whether the child survived birth, she added. The couple said in the lawsuit that they were unable to hold their baby. The hospital did not address why in its statement.
Rose said that despite the intense grief bereaved parents may feel, she has witnessed families continue their journey to family planning while learning to balance their love for children who are no longer with them.
“Grief is all the love that you have to give somebody that you now have nowhere to put it,” Rose said. “So, for a lot of mothers, when they experience pregnancy, infant or child loss, that overwhelming feeling of love to give another child becomes centered, as well. I always encourage mothers to hold on to hope, even after something catastrophic.”