A baby born to a woman in a vegetative state at a Phoenix care facility is as disturbing as it is baffling, and it sparks questions of how the woman was able to endure labor.
Dr. Greg Marchand, an OBGYN in the Valley, said it was a very high-risk pregnancy and that it’s incredible the woman was able to give birth without complications.
“This is really quite lucky,” Marchand said. “[The pregnancy] really needed close monitoring and didn't get any of that monitoring. The baby just kind of came out on its own.”
Marchand has not treated or examined the woman at Hacienda Healthcare, but he does have experience with other women who have given birth while in a vegetative state.
“When you're in vegetative state you're not brain dead so the autonomic system is controlling the body,” Marchand said. “The uterus is contracting just as it would in a woman who is not in vegetative state, so all the functions of labor are in place.”
In other words, while in a vegetative state, the body goes into autopilot. That means the woman was still having a regular cycle and ovulations. And in labor, the only thing she couldn't do was push the baby out.
“In a case like this where the patient was getting appropriate medical care, the correct course of action would be to do what we call ‘assisted second stage of labor,’” Marchand said. “We let the uterus contract on its own while monitoring the baby until the cervix, the opening of the uterus, gets completely open or completely dilated, and then at that point, we assist in the delivery since mom can’t push.”
Marchand said the way doctors assist in the delivery is either by putting a vacuum on the baby’s head or by using forceps.
But from what we know about this case, none of this was done because the staff reportedly didn't know she was pregnant until the baby was already coming out. The woman, who has been in the care of Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix for more than a decade, is non-verbal and cannot move on her own.
Marchand says physically, a woman in a vegetative state looks like any other pregnant woman, which begs the question: How could the staff not know she was pregnant?
“It’d be very, very tough to believe that medical personnel were seeing her, treating her and couldn't realize that she was eight or nine months pregnant,” Marchand said.
Marchand said if the patient is morbidly obese then it would become “possibly reasonable that they were able to miss this,” but in a woman of “normal size” it is “very tough to imagine.”
We also don't know if the baby was born prematurely, but Marchand said it is “very curious how they weren't able to notice.”
From what we know, the baby boy is healthy and currently at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
The Phoenix police investigation is ongoing and the CEO of Hacienda Healthcare has since resigned.