n September of 1996, Gabriella Alonso underwent an abortion at the private clinic of Dr. Ivan Kovachev in Queens, New York. She was seven weeks pregnant. The abortion was performed under anesthesia administered by nurse-anesthetist Dennis Morton. The anesthetic, Brevital, was administered via IV, and additional oxygen was provided to Gabriella via a face mask.
The only other clinic staff with any medical background at all were phlebotomists. Only Kovachev and Morton were trained in CPR.
The abortion itself was uncomplicated. Gabriella was then transferred to a "recovery room," which was just a room with eight easy chairs and no medical equipment. There was no heart or respiration monitor, no blood pressure cuff, no "crash cart" for resuscitation.
Kovachev later said that Gabriella was conscious coming out of the procedure room. Nurse Morton said that she was "drowsy," meaning that she was not yet alert enough that it would be safe for Morton to remove the oxygen mask.
Gabriella was one of seven patients on whom Kovachev performed abortions in a 90-minute period, which allowed an average of ten minutes per patient. There were several patients in the "recovery room" in addition to Gabriella, but there was no medical oversight. The only clinic employee in the room was a billing clerk.
After transferring Gabriella to her armchair, Kovachev and Morton went back into the procedure room to do an abortion on another patient.
At some point the clerk noticed that Gabriella wasn't breathing and summoned Kovachev. He and Morton had to finish the other patient's abortion and bring her out of anesthesia before they could turn their attention to Gabriella. They brought her into the procedure room and performed CPR until ambulance staff arrived and took the comatose woman to Elmhurst Hospital. Kovachev attributed Gabriella's injury to "too much Brevital."
Somebody reported Kovachev's treatment of Gabriella to the police, who confiscated several vials of medications that were two years past their expiration date.
Gabriella spent the final six years of her life in a vegetative state until finally dying during the summer of 2002.
On autopsy, Gabriella's brain showed the kind of shrinkage and hardening that is expected after years in a vegetative state. Ultimately pneumonia, a commonplace complication of a vegetative state, was the direct cause of Gabriella's death.
To add more tragedy, documents from the lawsuit Gabriella's family had filed against Kovachev and Morton indicate that six months after Gabriella's abortion, the doctor and nurse had allowed another patient to lapse into a coma. When asked why the woman had been left comatose, Morton had replied, "I don't know."
He also indicated that as far as he was concerned, his responsibility for the patient ended when the abortion was finished. He didn't seem to think that making sure that his patient was alert after anesthesia and being properly monitored with appropriate equipment and a trained staff person was any of his concern.
Kovachev's qualifications also left a lot to be desired. He had attended medical school in Eastern Europe and only completed a single year of residency in the United States. He was not certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Still, his shortcomings were inexcusable. Dr. Melinek ruled Gabriella's death a homicide. To her knowledge, though, no action was ever taken against Kovachev by the medical board or law enforcement.
Other women who languished for years in a coma or vegetative state before dying from delayed abortion complications include:
- Venus Ortiz, who spent five years in a nursing home before dying in December of 1998
- Suzanne Logan, who languished, mute and paralyzed, for three years until her death in December of 1992
- Shelby Moran, who was cared for in a nursing home for over 20 years until her death in September of 1999
- Christi Stile, who spent nearly 22 years in a vegetative state until her death in March of 2015