Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Refugee and a Diplomat's Daughter

She Lost Her Legs and Then Her Life

A smiling young woman of Hispanic descent, with thick dark hair and a white hat
Carolina Guitierrez
Carolina Gutierrez, a part-time waitress who had come to the United States as a refugee from Nicaragua at age 13, was 20 years old when she went to Maber Medical Center, a storefront clinic stuck between a cigar factory and a bar in Miami for an abortion on December 19, 1995. Carolina's husband, 25-year-old Jose Linarte, did not want her to have the abortion, so Carolina got a friend to drive her back and forth to the clinic.

The evening after her abortion, Carolina had pain in her chest and abdomen. She called the clinic for help, but whoever answered the phone hung up on her.

Over the next two days, Carolina left messages on the clinic answering machine, but nobody returned her calls. On December 21st, she could hardly breathe, so her family called 911. She arrived at the emergency room already in septic shock. Carolina underwent an emergency hysterectomy at the hospital to try to halt the spread of infection from her perforated uterus. Carolina was put into the intensive care unit, where she battled for her life against the raging sepsis. She was on a respirator, with her fingers and feet going black with gangrene.

Relatives cared for her children, a five-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, while Carolina's husband spent as much time as he could by her side. "I can't sleep. I try to take my mind off it, but it's impossible," he told the Miami Herald.

Carolina's 21st birthday came and went as she lay in the ICU. Doctors fought to help the young woman to gain enough strength to undergo amputation of her gangrenous limbs. Finally doctors took off both legs below the knee. But despite the hysterectomy, the amputations, and all their other efforts, Carolina died on February 5, 1996.

"I have lost the love of my life," Jose said in a press conference. "I'm heartbroken. They have taken my happiness away."

He remained bewildered about the abortion. "We wanted a child. That's all we talked about. We even bought clothes for the baby."

While investigating the clinic, owned by Maria Luisa and Roque Garcia, officials noted that although Carolina could not read English, her only consent form was in English -- and the line for her signature was blank. She had paid $225 in cash for the abortion that took her legs and her life.

Abortion Blamed on Midwife

On January 29, 1929, Glasgow native Louise Allman, age 25, underwent an abortion at the Chicago home of Amelia K. Jaruez, a midwife. The address is also listed as a medical facility, so evidently she provided care to legitimate patients there as well. On February 5, Louise died, leaving behind a husband, Stanley. Jaruez was held by the coroner on February 23, and indicted for homicide by a grand jury, but she was acquitted on July 2.

Mysterious Abortionists

On February 5, 1918, Carmile Ghant, a Black woman, died at 3746 State Street in Chicago from an abortion perpetrated by two doctors, Ges. Miller and Robert J. Miller. There is some odd mention of the defendants being "Outside labor force (incl. criminals" and the business owner of a bar or saloon.") It is therefore unclear if one or both of these doctors also owned a bar, or if the bar owner was somehow an accomplice in Carmile's death. Either way, the men were indicted on March 1, but the case never went to trial.

The Diplomat's Daughter

News clipping photo of a smiling teenage girl wearing a dark porkpie hat
Mercedes Berriozabal
Fifteen-year-old Mercedes Berriozabal wasn't an ordinary schoolgirl. Her father, Felipi Berriozabal Jr., was living in Chicago as the Mexican Consul with his wife, Doloris, and their other children during the entirety of Mercedes's short life.The family was a highly respected one: Mercedes's grandfather, Felipe Berriozabal Sr., had been a highly regarded military and political man in Mexico.

According to her parents, Mercedes had gone to her mother on January 28, 1906, reporting that she was in pain. Mrs.Berriozabal told her husband. "I told Mrs. Berriozabel to take the girl to Dr. [Bayard] Holmes without delay. When they returned from the doctor's office my wife told me the terrible news. I could not believe it. Mercedes resisted all my questions. I could not learn from her that she had known any man or boy. She denied absolutely that such was the case."

Holmes said that on that initial visit he told Mrs. Berriozabal that "an operation should be performed," but that she took her daughter home without allowing him to operate. He said that he and his assistant, Dr. Moore, saw Mercedes again the following night.

At 11:00 the night of January 31, Mr. Berriozabal agreed to allow Holmes to admit Mercedes to Wesley Hospital under the name "Mercedes B. Zabal." "The operation was performed Thursday morning at 11 o'clock. It was finally found necessary to make an incision. While I have no positive evidence that another doctor had operated on the patient, I presumed from examination that such had been the case."

Mercedes died of blood poisoning on February 5. Holmes completed a falsified death certificate using the fake name and sent Mercedes' body directly to the undertaker in the wee hours of the morning of Wednesday, February 6. The undertaker reported the suspicious death to the coroner, who initiated an inquest. During the inquest, Holmes was asked, "Did you think that certificate would be accepted by the health department without an investigation?"

"I believed it would be," he replied. And when asked if he realized that he was covering up for two criminals with the falsification, he said, "I didn't look at it that way. I have concealed nothing and I am as anxious as you to solve the case."

Holmes was an extremely reputable physician, highly esteemed for his work in bacteriology and in establishing a medical library in Chicago among his other accomplishments. He evidently either was not suspected of having perpetrated the abortion attempt that had left Mercedes injured and in need of hospitalization, or was too highly connected to have official accusations made against him.

Since Mercedes was a tall girl who looked much older than she actually was, there evidently was some speculation that she might have been involved with an older man rather than a school mate.

Mercedes's mother and siblings moved back to Mexico, bringing her body with them for burial. Mercedes' father told reporters that the President of Mexico had sent him a telegram of condolence. "The publicity in this awful case has been particularly annoying, and as an investigation cannot bring me back my daughter, I and the other members of my family wish that the matter might be dropped. My daughter was as pure as any other girl. We thought her safe, but on one is safe in this savage town."

The investigation into Mercedes' death ran into a dead end after the family left the country. A former alderman told the police that he knew of a physician, whose name he refused to give, that might have treated her prior to her death, and the coroner admitted that he'd found some leads, but evidently there was insufficient evidence to ever charge anybody with the crime.

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