Friday, September 05, 2008

1992: Uneventful abortion leaves 13-year-old girl dead

Date of service 9-5-92, Uneventful D&C, Thank you [for the referral]! -- Dr. Steve Lichtenberg

It was September 5, 1992. Eighteen members of Deanna Bell's family were gathered in a Chicago abortion clinic, wanting to know why the 13-year-old girl was lying dead in a back room.

Dr. Steve Lichtenberg, who had performed the fatal abortion, left his clinic manager to field questions from Deanna's distraught relatives. Lichtenberg himself had joined the clinic manager earlier in talking to Deanna's mother and sister. Deanna had, they told the family, most likely died from an amniotic fluid embolism -- a known, dangerous, and difficult to treat complication of later abortions.

It was just one of those flukey things that happens sometimes.

Somebody at the clinic -- Albany Medical Surgical Center -- notified the coroner about the death. Even though Deanna's death was attended by a physician, somebody thought to order an autopsy. Tests were performed that found no evidence of an amniotic fluid embolism.

So why was the child dead? She had been taken into the procedure room at about 7:40 that evening, a healthy girl. The abortion had taken nine minutes. During the nine minutes Lichtenberg had spent pulling her unborn baby out in pieces, something had gone wrong. She had been discharged to the recovery room at 7:51, rating only 9 favorable points out of 14 for color, respiration, and so on. Her pulse was alarmingly rapid -- between 130 and 135 beats per minute.

After only two minutes in the recovery room, at 7:53, Deanna was documented as lacking all vital signs -- pulse, respiration, blood pressure. But the first efforts to resuscitate her were not documented until 8:51. During that hour, Lichtenberg said, there were attempts at resuscitation, but nobody had documented them and nobody had called an ambulance so that properly-trained medics could resusciate Deanna and bring her to a better-equipped facility.

Deanna "never regained productive cardiac activity or consciousness." She was pronounced dead at 8:52.

What had gone so terribly, terribly wrong?

The abortion hadn't gone well from the very start.

It was a multi-stage 21-week abortion that had begun on September 3 with the insertion of laminaria -- sticks of seaweed that absorb moisture, expand, and dilate the cervix. According to Deanna's records, she was "uncooperative" during this process -- which, Deanna's family said, had been performed by a non-physician -- so when the time came to change the laminaria the next day, Lichtenberg did it under general anesthesia. Deanna was administered 400 mg of Brevital -- a drug not approved for pediatric use -- when a sufficient dose for an adult would be 70 mg. And during the procedure, Lichtenberg accidentally ruptured the amniotic sac.

During the actual abortion procedure on the 5th, Deanna was given at least 250 mg. of Brevital -- at least 3.6 times the therapeutic dose.

Was this massive dose of Brevitol the reason Deanna's heart stopped? The coroner drew no conclusions, merely noting that Deanna had congested lungs, a uterus full of clotted blood, and a lot of Brevitol in her system.

Deanna's family wanted answers. They sued. And in their investigation they found evidence that Lichtenberg's staff failed to monitor Deanna. The facility had no protocols for dealing with cardio-respiratory arrest. They also found that Deanna wasn't the first patient to die after an abortion at a Family Planning Associates Medical Group facility. Denise Holmes, Mary Pena, Patricia Chacon, Josefina Garcia, Laniece Dorsey, Tami Suematsu, Joyce Ortenzio, and Susan Levy had already died under the ministrations of Allred and his team of abortionists. And Allred admitted in a deposition that he had never done any sort of preventability study after any of these deaths. He said that he could find no fault with his staff in their handling of Deanna.

Deanna Bell has been dead sixteen years now, three more years than she'd spent walking this earth. Allred, Lichtenberg, and the FPA attorneys have been stalling the family's lawsuit, which remains unresolved. The family still has no answers.

At a National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar (Lichtenberg is always in attendance, and frequently a presenter), Planned Parenthood Medical Director Michael Burnhill scolded Lichtenberg when he boated of his exploits in performing risky abortions in an outpatient facility and treating life-threatening complications on-site instead of transporting patients to fully-equipped facilities. Burnhill called this "playing Russian roulette with patients' lives.

It appears that in Lichtenberg's little game, Deanna Bell was the loser.

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