Monday, September 05, 2022

September 5, 1992: The Uneventful Death of Deanna Bell

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

Former abortion facility on Elston Avenue
It was September 5, 1992. Eighteen members of Deanna Bell's family were gathered in a Chicago abortion clinic at 5086 N. Elston Avenue, 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 morning, a healthy girl. The abortion had taken 11 minutes. During the 11 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 resuscitate 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.

laminaria tents
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. CRNA Larry Hill administered 400 mg of Brevital-- a drug not approved for pediatric use at the time -- when a sufficient dose for an adult would be 70 mg. And during the procedure, Lichtenberg accidentally ruptured the amniotic sac.

The next day Deanna's mother brought her back to the clinic. During the actual abortion procedure on the 5th, Deanna CRNA Arthur Goode administered at least 250 mg. of Brevital-- at least 3.6 times the therapeutic dose. She was not intubated, as per Brevital protocols. Oxygen was administered by waving the oxygen mask near Deanna's face.

CRNA Goode and Elizabeth Sturm put Deanna on a gurney and took her to the recovery room. Strum was referred to as a medical assistant although she had no formal medical education. Strum put a pulse oximeter on Deanna's finger and a blood pressure cuff on her arm, then Goode went to anesthetize another patient for an abortion.

As the lawsuit states, "Before obtaining a reading from either of Bell's monitoring devices in the recovery room, Sturm began to write on Bell's medical chart the vital signs Sturm expected to find, rather than Bell's actual vital signs. This practice is called 'precharting.' While Sturm was precharting, the pulse oximeter beeped, indicating that it was not getting a reading. Sturm removed the device from Bell's finger and checked its operation by making sure the light inside the device was on. Sturm then placed the device on another of Bell's fingers, but still did not receive a reading. Sturm looked at Bell's appearance for evidence of a problem, but she noticed only that Bell was 'a black girl.' When Sturm was still unable to get a reading on on the pulse oximeter, she summoned the nurse, Dolly Barnett."

Nurse Barnett assessed Deanna and determined that she was pulseless and not breathing. She sent Strum to fetch Goode while she initiated CPR. Goode joined her, using an ambu-bag and supplemental oxygen.

At around 8:00, Lichtenberg finished with the patient he was operating on and joined Goode and Barnett in the recovery room.  He took over chest compressions while Goode attached the EKG machine. About 15 minutes later Goode intubated Deanna. Lichtenberg administered epinephrine six times and shocked Deanna's heart four times. An expert for Deanna's family indicated that, like the dose of Brevital, the jolts of electricity were higher than indicated for a patient of Deanna's size.

Lichtenberg pronounced Deanna dead.

Was the massive dose of Brevital 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 Brevital in her system. There were no signs of an amniotic fluid embolism

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. Nobody on the clinic staff who attended to Deanna was current in their advanced cardiac life support protocols. 

They also found that Deanna wasn't the first patient to die after an abortion at a Family Planning Associates Medical Group facility. Denise HolmesMary PenaPatricia ChaconJosefina GarciaLaniece DorseyTami SuematsuJoyce 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's family lost their lawsuit in 1999 but won a new trial on the grounds that the judge had excluded vital evidence showing malpractice. In 2004, however, a judge ruled that the case would not go back to trial because of the amount of time that had elapsed since Deanna's death. As of 2005, there has been no update on the case.

After Deanna's death, Christine Mora, TaTanisha Wesson, Maria Leho, Kimberly Neil, Nakia Jorden, Maria Rodriguez, Chanelle Bryant, and "Kyla Ellis" also perished under FPA's dubious care. That makes a total of 17 deaths I'm personally aware of.

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.

Deanna has been dead twenty years now, seven more years than she'd spent walking this earth. Allred, Lichtenberg, and the FPA attorneys stalled the family's lawsuit, and eventually succeeded in thwarting their efforts to get justice for a young girl who died at the hands of a risk-taker.

Watch "Deanna Bell's Uneventful Death" on YouTube.

Sources: Cook County Circuit Court Case No. 94L05372; "Girl dies in abortion clinic after surgery," Chicago Tribune September 6, 1992; "Mom sues area abortion clinic after her 13-year-old girl dies," Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1994; "Mother Can Sue Abortion Business Over Daughter's Abortion Death,", June 10, 2005

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