An area couple is suing Madison Health and a London obstetrician for the death of their three-hour-old infant.
Opening statements were heard Wednesday morning in Madison County Common Pleas Court from lawyers representing plaintiffs Heather and Timothy Prushing and defendants Madison County Hospital (now operating as Madison Health), Dr. Jennifer Powell and Obstetrics & Gynecology of London.
The case is being heard by a jury this week.
The lawsuit, which accuses Powell and the hospital of negligence that led to wrongful death, centers around the final hours leading up to the infant’s birth.
The Prushings’ attorney, Douglas Blue, blamed “indecisiveness” on the part of the doctor and nurses for Hunter’s death.
“This case is about an infant — Hunter Prushing — that was crying for help,” Blue told jurors. “He was crying for help, and nobody came to save him.”
A three-hour life
Around 4 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2012, Heather arrived at the hospital. Dr. Powell, who was the doctor on-call, came to the hospital around 6 p.m. and artificially broke Heather’s water. The baby’s heart was beating at a rate of roughly 150 beats per minute.
Heather gave birth to her son, Hunter, at approximately 1 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2012. His heart rate had dropped to 90 beats per minute. He was pale. He was not breathing.
A doctor performed an intubation — a procedure in which a tube is inserted through the mouth down into the trachea to create an open airway — on the infant, but the tube came out.
At approximately 3:54 a.m., Hunter died.
Doctors and nurses administered the proper care according to the information available to them at the time, said Thomas Dillon, the attorney representing the hospital.
“This is a sad situation, a tragedy — the loss of a baby three hours after a delivery,” Powell’s attorney, Frederick Seward, said. “But, nobody is at fault.”
A dropping heart rate
The plaintiff’s attorney pointed to screens from a fetal heart rate monitor that showed Hunter’s heart beat dropping rapidly and climbing back within 30 seconds — these decelerations indicate the umbilical cord is being pinched, depriving the baby of oxygen while still in the womb, he said.
Oxygen deprivation causes acid buildup in a fetus, which killed Hunter, Blue said.
The Prushings also claimed the hospital did not have properly certified physicians available to conduct neonatal resuscitation, according to court documents.
Nurse Amanda McClure monitored mother and baby. She administered Pitocin, a medicine to help induce labor, throughout the evening. She turned Heather over in an attempt to re-position the baby in her womb to alleviate pressure from the umbilical cord.
Around 11 p.m., the heartbeat decelerations got worse, and McClure called Powell, who advised her to conduct an amnioinfusion, in which liquid is injected into the amniotic fluid, in this case to attempt to cushion the baby to alleviate stress on the umbilical cord.
Around 11:40, McClure called Powell again and reported that the procedure was not having the desired effect. Powell instructed McClure to contact necessary personnel and prep Heather for a C-section.
When Powell arrived at the hospital around 12:05 a.m., she canceled the C-section.
Blue argued that Hunter would be alive if the C-section had been performed. He said McClure should have challenged Powell on her decision not to operate.
The Prushings’ primary witness, Dr. Aaron Caughey, will testify that Powell misinterpreted the fetal heart monitor readings, or she would have immediately delivered the baby, Blue stated.
If not via C-section, the baby could have been delivered faster with the use of a vacuum tool that would have delivered the baby in two minutes, he said. Heather was fully dilated by 12:48 a.m., he said.
Caughey will testify that the baby’s life was “salvageable” until 12:53 a.m., Blue said.
A doctor’s ‘shock’
Powell’s attorney, Sewards, said this assertion that the fetal heart rate screens indicated an emergency will be an “abject falsehood.”
In the roughly 25 minutes it took Powell to arrive at the hospital after instructing McClure to prep for a C-section, the baby’s readings changed, Sewards said.
McClure had been administering Pitocin because the mother had virtually stopped dilating for about five hours, Dillon said.
But in those 25 minutes alone, Heather dilated from five to eight centimeters, Sewards said. And the baby’s heart rate decelerations had resolved, he added.
Powell was “shocked” when Hunter was born pale and not breathing, he said. Defense witness Dr. Mark Landon, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, will testify he would have acted the same as Powell, Sewards said.
The loss of oxygen occurred when the umbilical cord tore from the placenta, which provided the blood that carried the oxygen for the fetus, moments before delivery, Dillon and Sewards argued.
Powell will testify that the placenta had to be manually removed, because it was not delivered with the umbilical cord after it was cut from Hunter, Sewards said.
Defense witness Dr. Carolyn Salafia, an expert in placenta pathology, will cite the hemorrhage as so rare that she has only seen it three times among the thousands of cases she has reviewed in her 30-plus-year career, Sewards said.
The trial is scheduled to run into next week. Plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $75,000.
Madison Health officials declined to comment at this time, citing pending litigation.
Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP