Most malpractice allegations levied against medical professionals are handled through civil — not criminal — courts, or are filtered through a licensure board.
But that process didn’t apply to Vickie Sorensen, 57, who had delivered thousands of healthy babies in her nearly 40 years as a midwife but was not licensed to do so in the state of Utah because, according to state law, it’s not mandated. That left her vulnerable to a jury trial in the criminal justice system after a patient accused her of botching the 2012 delivery of twins that left one baby dead.
Even Sorensen’s sentencing judge told the courtroom on Wednesday that her case was one of the most difficult he had seen in his four decades as an attorney and judge, reported the Spectrum and Daily News, waiving the recommended sentence of one to 15 years in prison and instead punishing her with 180 days in the Iron County Jail and 36 months probation.
Additionally, Sorensen is barred from practicing midwifery, the judge ruled.
The case comes at a time when more and more parents are seeking to give birth at home or in birthing centers, which can feel more intimate and comfortable. Out-of-hospital births in the U.S. have been on a steady increase in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, jumping from 0.87 percent in 2004 to 1.36 percent in 2012.
And in Utah, between 1990 and 2012, the number of out-of-hospital births doubled, reported the Salt Lake Tribune.
Shortly after Sorensen was arrested in 2014, supporters, including the parents of other babies she had successfully delivered and those in the midwife community, launched a public campaign to defend her, and on the days the jury delivered its verdict and the judge his sentence, dozens flooded the courtroom in solidarity, reported the Spectrum.
“I was a traditional midwife and had always done my best,” Sorensen said during the trial. “My midwife career is in ashes now.”
Her lawyer called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
But the facts of the case, jurors found, and the portrait painted by the prosecution told a wholly different story.
When Sorensen was initially charged with the crime, authorities portrayed her as a reckless midwife with out-of-date training who misled an expecting mother — pregnant with twins — into believing that a home delivery for her growing babies was standard and safe, despite guidelines that suggest otherwise.
Licensed midwives in Utah cannot take on women carrying multiple babies because those pregnancies are considered high-risk and more likely to necessitate emergency care, reported the Tribune in 2014. But Sorensen told the pregnant woman that a twin birth was a “routine situation” and that she delivered twins on a regular basis, according to a police report obtained by the Tribune when the midwife was arrested.
That false reassurance, alongside what the judge called Sorensen’s “serious errors in judgment” the day of the fatal delivery, informed the jurors’ guilty verdict.
Approximately two months before her due date, the mother in the case began experiencing contractions, according to testimony reported by the Spectrum. When the mother called Sorensen, concerned, the midwife reassured her that she was not in labor, but that the babies were “moving into position” for their birth, county prosecutor Mike Edwards told the jury during opening statements.
Sorensen instead instructed the woman, whose first child she had also delivered, to bathe in Epsom salts.
But the contractions continued into the next day, according to the state, prompting Sorensen to ask a fellow doctor to administer a magnesium IV drip to slow the labor. That doctor, Edwards said, had to call another doctor for assistance.
The IV failed, so Sorensen told the expecting parents the babies must be delivered that night at her Cedar City birthing center. The parents of the pregnant woman were summoned to the center, and the grandmother, Jill Thornton, a registered nurse who worked in pediatrics and a neonatal intensive care unit, testified that she had expressed concerns that the baby’s lungs might not be sufficiently developed for an out-of-hospital delivery. Sorensen assured them that if there were complications, she would send the mother to the hospital.
But when the first twin was in the breech position (rather than emerging headfirst), Sorensen did not call the nearby hospital, according to testimony, and it wasn’t until the baby had been delivered and was blue that someone at the birthing center called 911.
With the second baby still inside her patient, Sorensen tried to revive the first one, but, according to the state, her potentially lifesaving breathing equipment was too large for the premature baby and she used obsolete CPR techniques. Thornton testified that she entered the birthing suite after she heard a crashing noise inside and found Sorensen putting drops into the mouth of the baby, reported the Spectrum.
Thornton tried to help, she testified, but allegedly couldn’t find functioning equipment.
“I’ve always been able to save babies, but I couldn’t save my grandbaby,” Thornton said during her testimony, reported the Spectrum.
Further testimony from witnesses called by the state, including an emergency room doctor and paramedic Mary Ann Rhodes, painted a chaotic picture as the ambulance arrived. Rhodes alleged that Sorensen told her she did not know when the baby was born, the scheduled due date or how long the midwife had been performing CPR.
Rhodes also alleged that Sorensen did not tell her the mother was still in labor with a second baby, reported the Spectrum. If the paramedic had known the mother was in critical condition, she would have called a second ambulance, Rhodes testified.
Instead, the mother walked outside — barefoot and in the snow — with her umbilical cord still attached to get inside the ambulance with her baby, startling Rhodes, she testified.
The first baby was declared dead at the Cedar City Hospital, reported the Spectrum. The second baby was delivered there by cesarean section and then transported to the neonatal intensive care unit at Dixie Regional Medical Center.
During the trial, Sorensen took the stand to offer her version of events, claiming it wasn’t her negligence, but extreme winter weather, that prevented her from transferring the mother to a hospital to give birth once complications arose.
Sorensen testified, according to the Spectrum, that she let the parents decide whether they wanted the magnesium IV or to drive to Dixie Regional Medical Center, and that they chose the IV. The parents disputed this during their own testimony, alleging that no such conversation happened.
The midwife was emotional as she testified that she thought the magnesium drip had worked until the mother began having contractions about five minutes apart. At that point, Sorensen testified, she decided to take the mother to the hospital and went outside to brush the snow from her car.
But when she returned, Sorensen testified that the mother’s labor was too far along.
Sorensen’s timeline on when 911 was called and how many times she told the mother to push contradicted witness testimony, reported the Spectrum, and her narrative contradicted Rhodes, the paramedic.
The midwife also testified that she walked with the mother and father to the ambulance, which contradicted previous testimony that Sorensen was not there at the time, reported the Spectrum.
Particularly damning, though, was testimony from Terence Heath, a Cedar City Hospital obstetrician who delivered the second baby, and other medical experts, who said the first twin would have lived had it been delivered at a hospital.
“A twin gestated at 33 weeks born without complications, birth defects or infections born at the hospital with the capabilities Cedar City Hospital has would have had a 99-100 percent chance of survival,” Heath said in court, according to the Spectrum.
Lisa Kane Low, president of the American College of Nurse Midwives, told the Salt Lake Tribune that most at-home births go well, but that higher-risk pregnancies can be more dangerous.
from the washington post.