Alison (2013) – USA

Miscarrying woman develops sepsis after being repeatedly mistreated and discharged by Catholic hospital

Alison lives in Bellingham, Washington (State), where there is only one hospital – a Catholic one. Three months into her pregnancy in 2013, Alison started bleeding. Her doctor Shayne Mora diagnosed her with a possible case of placenta previa and told her to go to the hospital if she started bleeding again. When that happened the next day, Alison went to the emergency room of the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. After an ultrasound showed the fetus was viable, the hospital discharged her. Providers recorded a clinical impression of “threatened abortion,” meaning Alison was at risk of miscarrying. They told her to return if she bled more heavily or ran a fever. The next day, Alison started soaking through a menstrual pad an hour and returned to the ER. Her medical records show she was again discharged with plans to see Dr. Mora in his office.

Three days later, she woke up in the middle of the night bleeding. Around noon, she passed a blood clot the size of a jawbreaker. In the ER for a third time, she described her pain as a seven out of ten. She was running a fever of 100.4 with an elevated white blood cell count, a classic sign of infection. “Appears anxious,” staff noted in her medical records. But the hospital discharged Alison again, this time telling her that her pain might be the result of appendicitis. At no point did anyone at the hospital mention that Alison had the option of ending her pregnancy with surgery to address the brewing infection that would end up putting her life at risk. Alison’s records at the time of her third discharge still show a working diagnosis of threatened abortion. Alison said that staff at St. Joseph and neglected to do a vaginal exam and “ignored that whole area,” even as they ran tests on her abdomen and chest. During her final visit to the ER, she asked a doctor if it might be a uterine infection; she said the doctor wouldn’t make eye contact and told her to talk with her OB-GYN.

By the next morning, Alison was in significant pain and her fever wasn’t responding to medication. She and her husband Bennett returned to the ER. A doctor ordered an abdominal MRI to rule out appendicitis and a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia. Then Dr. Mora arrived. He did a vaginal exam and Alison arched off the bed in agony. “It felt like something from the Exorcist, just like flailing from the pain,” she said. Alison had refused pain medication out of fear it might harm the pregnancy and said the agony radiating from her infected uterus was worse than non-medicated childbirth. Medical records show her fever had spiked to 101.1.

Dr. Mora explained to Alison that she had an infection and needed surgery to end the pregnancy. Bennett asked whether there was any way to save the baby. Mora was firm: No. In fact, Alison’s life might be in danger. She had sepsis. But Dr. Mora explained that he couldn’t proceed until the hospital’s ethics committee approved the surgery. Citing Catholic policy, PeaceHealth bans abortion unless its “direct purpose” is the “cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman” and it “cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable.” In other words, the hospital would permit the life-saving surgery only if the committee considered Alison sick enough. If Dr. Mora couldn’t secure the approval, he planned to send Alison in an ambulance 90 miles south to Seattle, at least a two-hour drive away. The ethics committee deliberated for around an hour, and approved the surgery because of the risk to Alison’s health. At some point, records indicate she was given misoprostol to soften her cervix. But before she made it to the operating room, Alison miscarried into the toilet.

Alison believes her life was put at risk. “I didn’t have to suffer like that,” said Alison. “If I had been in an ambulance in traffic for hours, I really could have died. I feel lucky that I didn’t die.”

Source: Rewire, Sep 25, 2019, by Amy Littlefield. “A Miscarrying Woman Nearly Died After a Catholic Hospital Sent Her Home Three Times”