Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Doctors, a Layman, and a Diagnostic Failure

Two Doctors Arrested, 1941

On July 29, 1941, 34-year-old Agnes Pearson of White Plains, New York died at Grasslands Hospital in New York of peritonitis caused by complications from three abortion attempts perpetrated on July 11, July 26, and July 28. Agnes left two children motherless.

Dr. Nathan Schwartz, age 55, and Dr. Samuel Schwartz (not related), age 68, were charged with first degree manslaughter in Agnes' death. The Grand Jury heard evidence from Agnes' husband, four hospital doctors, three nurses, state police, and a laboratory worker.


New source: "Indict 2 Doctors As Woman Dies," New York Daily News, August 8, 1941

A Professional Lay Abortionist, 1949

On July 29, 1949, on the basis of a third-party referral, telegraph operator Dorothy Martin, just short of her 24th birthday, went to the Georgia home of P.D. Beigun for an abortion. Beigun was a contractor by trade. Dorothy, with the assistance of a man named Virgil Echols, age 21, had visited Beigun a few days earlier to make the arrangements. Beigun took Dorothy into a bedroom while Echols waited in the living room. About 15 or 20 minutes later, Echols heard a sound described as a "slump," and Beigun called for him to come and help. Beigun went into the other room and found Beigun supporting an unconscious Dorothy by the waist. Dorothy made a gurgling sound.

Echols helped Beigun lay Dorothy on the bed. Echols tried to revive Dorothy, and asked Beigun what happened. Beigun indicated that he'd packed Dorothy's uterus with gauze. The men summoned police and an ambulance. While they waited, Beigun instructed Echols on what story they were to tell. They were to say that they'd been sitting in the living room with Dorothy when she'd felt faint. Then, they'd say, Dorothy fainted and they moved her to the bed. 


When the police arrived, Dorothy was dead. The next day the toxicologist and a physician performed an autopsy. They found that Dorothy's cervix had been dilated, discolored, and abraded, and that her injury must have been very painful. They believed that gauze had been forced into Dorothy's uterus, even though no gauze was present at autopsy, because her injuries were consistent with this scenario. They also concluded that Dorothy had gone into shock and died within a few minutes of her injury. The fetus appeared to be about three to four months of gestation. An obstetrician testified that Dorothy's baby hadn't been killed by the abortion attempt but had died due to her death.


In trial, it came out that Echols had previously brought his own wife to Beigun for an abortion. That abortion took place in June, 1948. Echols paid Beigun $65. Echols had dropped his wife off for the abortion and picked her up later to take her home. She became sick with nausea and pain, and Echols pulled a 6-inch rubber tube and about 60 feet of gauze out of his wife's uterus. Her pain became so great that Echols called a doctor, who had the sick woman brought to a hospital. Her temperature was 104 degrees. She was provided with penicillin and a blood transfusion. Beigun visited her at the hospital, asking why she'd not returned to him for treatment rather than going to somebody else. Documents don't reveal why Echols, whose own wife had very nearly died under Beigun's care, brought another woman to the same man for his dubious services.


Beigun's trial was delayed due to his stomach problems and not being in "a mental and physical condition as to be able to confer rationally with his counsel." Ten of the 12 jurors hearing Beigun's case voted for the death penalty before settling on life in prison during an hour of deliberation. Beigun lost his appeal.

In a particularly tragic coincidence, another young woman, 'Nita Brown, died the following September from complications of an abortion shortly before Beigun's trial. 'Nita lived at the same address as Dorothy, though it's not clear if they were roommates or just lived in the same building.

See sources below.


Two Misdiagnoses, 1985


Twenty-six-year-old Yvette Poteat had an abortion performed by Dr. Marion D. Dorn Jr. at The Ladies Clinic in Charleston, South Carolina on July 16, 1985. A lawsuit filed by her surviving mother and sister says that Dorn did not examine the tissue he removed from Yvette's uterus, and did not notify Yvette that the lab report showed no fetal or placental tissue in the specimen.

On July 27, Yvette experienced "sudden, sharp, constant lower abdominal pains," and was taken to a hospital by her fiancée. She was admitted to the emergency room, where she informed the doctors about the abortion. She was mistakenly diagnosed as having Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, was given medication, and was discharged after several hours with instructions to seek follow-up care in two days.

Throughout July 28, Yvette experienced continued pain. She called the hospital but "was instructed not to return but to give the medication a chance to work."

Early in the morning of July 29, Yvette collapsed at home. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She went into cardiac arrest due to a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that both Dorn and the hospital staff had failed to diagnose, and was pronounced dead 6:15 a.m.

The lawsuit noted that Yvette's mother "suffered the loss of the financial support of her daughter, extreme mental shock and suffering, wounded feelings, extreme grief and sorrow, has lost the love and affection and companionship of a loving and wonderful daughter, has been deprived of the use and comfort of her society."

The suit against Dorn, the clinic, the hospital and hospital doctors won a small $23,000 plaintiff verdict in 1987.


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Dorothy Martin Sources:

  • 206 Ga. 618, 58 S.E.2d 149; Supreme Court of Georgia. Biegun v. State No. 16985.Feb. 16, 1950
  • "Contractor Indicted In Abortion Death," Atlanta Constitution, August 3, 1949
  • "Girl, Left Mysteriously At Hospital Clinic, Dies," Atlanta Constitution, September 1, 1949
  • "Couple Held in Death Of Girl Left at Grady," Atlanta Constitution, September 3, 1949
  • "Abortion Death Cause, Dr. Jones Tells Court," Atlanta Constitution, September 14, 1949
  • "Beigun's Stomach Upset Recesses Abortion Case," Atlanta Constitution, September 15, 1949
  • "Death Laid To Shock In Abortion Case," Atlanta Constitution, September 16, 1949
  • "Abortion Case Life Sentence Is Pronounced," Atlanta Constitution, September 18, 1949







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