A couple in Georgia alleges that their infant was decapitated during delivery when the doctor used excessive force.
The suit says that the doctor, as well as the staff at the hospital, covered up the incident to prevent the parents from knowing what had truly happened.
A funeral home employee notified the parents that they’d received a decapitated infant from the hospital. The parents are suing and asking for a jury trial.
A couple alleges that their infant was decapitated during delivery at Southern Regional Medical Center in Georgia on July 9 after their doctor used excessive force, according to recent news reports. The hospital also tried to cover up the fact that the baby was decapitated.
The infant’s parents, Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor Sr., along with their attorney, announced at an August 9 news conference that they were bringing a suit against the hospital and Tracey Fisher St. Julian, MD, the board-certified, Georgia-based OB/GYN that attempted to deliver their baby. Dr. St. Julian works for Premier Women’s OBGYN and has been practicing since January 2005, the provider’s website says.
“They were so excited about the birth of their first child. Unfortunately, their dreams and hopes turned into a nightmare that was covered up by Southern Regional Medical Center,” their attorney Cory Lynch said at the news conference.
The infant got stuck in the vagina during delivery due to shoulder dystocia, a complication of vaginal delivery that occurs in about 0.15–2% of all deliveries. Dr. St. Julian then applied “ridiculously excessive force” on the baby’s head and neck to try to deliver it, according to attorney Roderick Edmond at the same conference.
The AP reports that three hours had passed before Dr. St. Julian took Ross in for a cesarean section, according to the suit. But it was too late; by then, no heartbeat was detected. The cesarean section ultimately led to the removal of the infant’s legs and body, and the baby’s head was delivered vaginally, the attorneys explained during the conference. Edmond also said the couple asked for a Cesarean earlier but was denied. Additionally, he said the hospital staff did not advocate for Ross’ request.
Fox 5 Atlanta reports, "When Ross and Taylor demanded to see and hold their child, the baby was reportedly tightly wrapped in a blanket with his head ‘propped on top of his body’ to conceal the fact that he was decapitated.”
The hospital wouldn’t let them hold their child, and the deceased infant was only shown to them from behind glass. It would be days before the family knew what happened.
On July 13, the general manager at a local funeral home contacted the medical examiner’s office, saying they’d received a decapitated infant. “We should have retrieved this body from the coroner’s office. When that did not happen, that’s when I said we need to reach out,” the general manager told Atlanta News First says. The general manager reached out first to the infant's family, who did not know the baby was decapitated.
Lynch said they couldn’t speculate why the hospital tried to cover up the incident but that Dr. St. Julian and the staff will be expected to go under oath in court. Lynch also explained at the press conference that the wrongful death case was based not only on medical malpractice but “fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress due to misrepresentation by the people involved in Ms. Ross’ healthcare.” The family and the attorneys are hoping for a jury trial, monetary damages, and funeral and burial costs.
At the press conference, Lynch noted that the case highlights data showing that Black women have a higher maternal mortality rate than other groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2021, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 69.9 deaths per every 100,000 live births—nearly three times the rate for 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women.
According to Fox 5 Atlanta, the hospital says the infant’s death occurred “in utero before the delivery and decapitation." The hospital also alleges that Dr. St. Julian is not a Southern Regional Medical Center employee.
Dr. Leslie Farrington, MD, a retired OB/GYN, co-founder and vice president at the Black Coalition For Safe Motherhood, Inc, and a board of directors member at the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy, told MDLinx that “Shoulder dystocia is a known complication of birth where the baby’s head emerges and the shoulders are stuck. And usually, it’s overcome with basic maneuvers that all obstetricians learn.”
And while she says she’s not privy to all of the details of the case, Dr. Farrington notes that Dr. St. Julian and the hospital’s staff should have been honest immediately with the family. “The whole team was complicit with the doctor in covering it up,” Dr. Farrington says. “The team that took care of [the infant and mother] is responsible, but the hospital is probably going to pay.”
Farrington also says that while a doctor may not lose their license in a malpractice case, a cover-up could potentially lead to a loss of license. “It’s one thing for a baby to die or to not be able to handle the delivery, but to cover it up was the biggest mistake,” Dr. Farrington says.
The county medical examiner’s office has not released an official cause of death.