By Maxime Tamsett, Isabel Rosales, Lauren Mascarenhas and Sahar Akbarzai, CNN
(CNN) — A Georgia couple is seeking justice for the death last year of their baby during delivery at a Georgia hospital.
The baby, Treveon Isaiah Taylor Jr., died from a broken neck and his head was detached, according to the Clayton County, Georgia, Medical Examiner’s Office, which determined the manner of death a homicide. That means the death was caused by another person, but it does not imply criminal activity. It’s up to local authorities to determine whether criminal charges should be filed in this case.
The parents, Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor Sr., say that the doctor applied “excessive traction” to the baby’s head and neck during the delivery last July and that the hospital tried to cover up the details of death in the aftermath, including the fact that the baby was decapitated, according to a lawsuit filed in August.
It was the funeral home that informed the parents about the decapitation, a discovery that the home’s general manager called “very disturbing.”
After the medical examiner’s announcement, a spokesperson for the hospital, Southern Regional Medical Center, told CNN: “Due to current litigation, we are unable to comment.”
“I just want justice for my baby boy,” the 21-year-old mother said Wednesday. “I’m hurt. I’m hurt bad. She (Dr. Tracey St. Julian) hurt me. She hurt my baby. She didn’t show no remorse.”
Ross urged the nurses who were present during her delivery to come forward and give their account of what happened.
“We just want justice for our son. They lied to us,” Taylor said Wednesday.
When asked what justice for their son would look like, Taylor said he wants the hospital shut down.
Ross and Taylor’s lawsuit alleges the Southern Regional Medical Center attempted to conceal the manner of death of the baby from her and her family, which the hospital has denied.
When asked Wednesday whether she believes criminal charges are deserved in this case, Ross said, “Yes.”
The case is under investigation by the Clayton County Police Department and could be referred to the District Attorney’s office, the medical examiner’s office said.
The medical examiner’s office said Ross’s baby died from “fracture-dislocation with complete transection, upper cervical (C1-C2) spine and spinal cord,” due to “shoulder dystocia, arrest of labor, and fetal entrapment in the birth canal,” according to the news release.
The medical examiner said pregnancy-induced diabetes and premature rupture of membranes were also significant conditions contributing to Taylor’s death.
“I have never witnessed anything like this before. No one in our office has seen anything like this. Everyone we have consulted has never seen a situation like this before,” Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Director Brian Byars told CNN on Tuesday. “I find it very unusual that the hospital didn’t contact our office due to the amount of trauma that was involved in this incident.”
Shoulder dystocia occurs when one or both of a baby’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pubic bones during delivery.
The doctor who delivered the baby, Dr. Tracey St. Julian, applied “excessive traction on the baby’s neck, in the face of the shoulder dystocia,” Dr. Roderick Edmond, an attorney for the parents, told reporters Wednesday.
“We reject the assertion that the injury suffered during this tragic event happened before the demise of the baby. The official autopsy performed by the GBI did not classify a manner of death and stated that there was no sign of life upon delivery,” an attorney for St. Julian said in a statement.
“Dr. St. Julian was faced with a dire obstetrical emergency where the mother’s life was in peril as well as the baby’s. Once it became clear that the baby did not survive the underlying severe shoulder dystocia (an unpreventable and unpredictable complication of delivery), the priority shifted to saving the mother’s life, which was thankfully accomplished.
“The separation of the head from the fetal body occurred post-mortem and any assertion to the contrary is false. Although tragic, that rare outcome has been reported in the medical literature and can happen in the absence of any wrongdoing by the physician which is the case here.”
St. Julian still holds a medical license and has privileges at two hospitals, including Southern Regional Medical Center, according to the Georgia Composite Medical Board. The medical board licenses doctors and other health care professionals in the state and enforces state regulations for practice. CNN has reached out to the board for comment.
The family first learned the baby was decapitated from the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home in Atlanta, where they wanted the baby’s services to be held. The baby was wrapped in sheets and was not visible during transportation from the hospital to the funeral home, general manager Sylvania Watkins told CNN on Wednesday.
Once the baby arrived at the funeral home, Watkins said he noticed the baby’s head “was separated from the body,” adding: “Something was not right … this baby should have come from the medical center’s office.”
“It was very disturbing,” Watkins said upon his discovery.
The family was on their way to the funeral home to see the baby’s body when Watkins informed them the baby was decapitated, Watkins told CNN.
Excessive traction seen on video, attorney says
The parent’s attorney said the alleged excessive traction was captured on video. He described the hospital’s actions in the aftermath of the death as “bizarre” and “diabolical.”
Edmond said the hospital was not candid with the parents about the fact that the baby had been decapitated, urged the parents to have the baby cremated and told them they could not get a free autopsy.
Ross went into labor on July 9 at full term. At the hospital, some 13 miles south of downtown Atlanta, her doctor attempted to deliver the baby using various methods, including “negligently” applying traction to the baby’s head, the lawsuit says.
The doctor is accused of failing to do a Cesarean section “in a timely and proper manner,” which resulted in the baby’s decapitation and death, according to the lawsuit. The C-section was completed at about 3 a.m. on July 10, the filing said.
When Ross and Taylor demanded to see and hold their baby, the hospital staff said they were not allowed but could view the body through a glass window, Edmond said.
“During this viewing, their baby was wrapped tightly in a blanket with his head propped on top of his body in a manner such that those viewing him could not identify that he had been decapitated,” a statement from a family spokesperson said.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the family and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the medical center’s statement reads. “Our prayers also remain with the dedicated team of physicians, nurses and staff at Southern Regional Medical Center who cared for this patient. Our commitment is to provide compassionate, quality care to every single patient, and this loss is heartbreaking.”
This story and headline have been updated.
CNN’s Nick Valencia and Emma Tucker contributed to this report.
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