Carolina Gutierrez had turned 21 on January 17 of 1996, but she hadn't spent her birthday going out and getting her first legal drink. She hadn't been in a bar or a club with her friends. She hadn't been at home with her husband and kids. She had spent her birthday critically ill in an intensive care unit of a Miami hospital,where she had been since December 21, when her family had called an ambulance in their alarm over her difficulty breathing.
Carolina had tried for two days to contact Maber Medical Center, where whe had undergone an abortion on the 19th, over her husband's objections. Her calls had yielded nothing. The voice mails she left had gone unanswered. When somebody finally did pick up the phone, whoever it was had hung up on her. The young mother, who had no medical insurance, had been suffering from fever and pain since the evening of the 19th.
Carolina had arrived at the emergency room already in septic shock. Doctors had performed an emergency hysterectomy, trying to halt the spread of infection from her perforated uterus, but the sepsis raged on. By her birthday, her fingers and toes were going black with gangrene. Two days later it was clear that her feet were going to have to be amputated if she was to have any hope at all of surviving. But first they had to get her stable enough to survive the surgery.
While Carolina lay unconscious in the intentisve care unit, her two children from a previous relationship spent most of their time in the care of relatives as her husband, Jose Linarte, spent as much time as he could by her side, waiting and praying.
The kids had been without their mother for nearly a month. How much longer they'd be without her remained to be seen.