A couple in Georgia alleges that their infant was decapitated during delivery when the doctor used excessive force. They have sued the hospital, delivery doctor, and other staff members.
The lawsuit alleges that the hospital and medical team covered up the incident to prevent the parents from knowing what had occurred. A funeral home employee notified the parents that they’d received a decapitated infant from the hospital.
The family filed a second lawsuit when the pathologist who performed the infant’s autopsy allegedly uploaded photos of the body to Instagram.
A Georgia couple, Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor Sr., sued Southern Regional Medical Center; nurses John and Jane Does #1-6; and Tracey Lynn St. Julian, MD, a board-certified, Georgia-based OB/GYN, after their infant was decapitated during delivery in July 2023. The couple says that the doctor used excessive force.
A horrific cover-up
The staff and hospital allegedly also tried to cover up the fact that the infant was decapitated during delivery. The family is suing for medical malpractice, gross negligence, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Later on, the pathologist who performed the autopsy retraumatized the family when he posted images of the deceased infant’s body on Instagram.
“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 alleged at an August 2023 news conference.
Dr. St. Julian works for Serenity Gynecology and has been practicing in the Atlanta area since January 2005. (When MDLinx.com previously reported on this case in August 2023, Serenity Gynecology was known as Premier Women’s Gynecology.) The infant got stuck during delivery due to shoulder dystocia, a complication of vaginal delivery that occurs in about 0.15% to 2.00% of all deliveries.
Dr. St. Julian had applied “ridiculously excessive force” on the baby’s head and neck to try to deliver it, attorney Roderick Edmond alleged at the August 2023 news conference.
The AP reports that 3 hours passed before Dr. St. Julian took Ross for a C-section, according to the suit. By then, no heartbeat was detected. The C-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 stated that the couple asked for a cesarean earlier but were denied. Additionally, he said the hospital staff did not advocate for the request.
Fox 5 Atlanta reports that 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 allegedly wouldn’t let the couple 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.
Funeral home manager sounds the alarm
On July 13, 2023, the general manager at a local funeral home contacted the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office, saying they’d received a decapitated infant from the hospital. “With the body and the head being detached, we should have retrieved this body from the coroner’s office,” the general manager told Atlanta News First. The general manager reached out to the infant’s family, and was the first person to tell them their baby was decapitated.
Lynch said that Dr. St. Julian and the staff will be expected to go under oath in court.
Lynch also explained at the news conference that the wrongful death case was based not only on medical malpractice, but also “fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress” due to misrepresentation by the people involved in Ross’s healthcare. The family and their attorneys are hoping for a jury trial, monetary damages, and funeral and burial costs.
According to Fox 5 Atlanta, the hospital says the infant’s death occurred “in utero prior to the delivery and decapitation." The hospital also alleges that Dr. St. Julian is not a Southern Regional Medical Center employee.
Holding the hospital and staff accountable
Leslie Farrington, MD, a retired OB/GYN, co-founder and executive director at the Black Coalition For Safe Motherhood, Inc., and a member of the board of directors at the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy, tells 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.”
While she says she’s not privy to all the details of the case, Dr. Farrington questioned why Dr. St. Julian and the hospital’s staff wasn't immediately honest with the family.
Dr. 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.
An 'outrageous' case of 'clout chasing'
Court documents state that Southern Regional Medical Center discouraged Ross and Taylor from getting an autopsy. However, according to a September 2023 news report, the family hired Jackson Gates, MD, an independent pathologist and founder of Medical Diagnostic Choices in Atlanta, to perform an autopsy. According to Dr. Gates’ website, he received general pathology and laboratory medicine training at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, and is board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology.
Dr. Gates then allegedly posted upsetting images of the autopsy online—which showed grisly details of the postmortem examination of the decapitated infant—to his Instagram account. At the time, the account had about 11,500 followers. As of February 2023, it has 16,500 followers. The family did not authorize Gates to share the footage.
The photos and videos were then deleted, but Dr. Gates says the images were posted for “educational purposes.” The couple’s attorney sent the pathologist a cease and desist letter on August 10, 2023. They are suing him for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and fraud. The family subsequently filed a second lawsuit. They are seeking $10,000 in punitive damages.
“After suffering one of the most heartbreaking losses any family could ever endure, Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Jr. had salt poured into their unfathomable emotional wounds when they discovered that video of their baby’s very graphic medical examination had been made public by the very doctor they entrusted to conduct the autopsy,” the couple’s attorney told the Miami Herald. “This is one of the most egregious and outrageous cases of ‘clout chasing’ we have ever encountered,” they continued.
In early February, the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a news release that the infant’s death had been ruled a homicide. According to the release, the infant 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.”
The Clayton County Medical Examiner’s director, Brian Byars, told CNN, “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…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.”
CNN also reports that Dr. St Julian’s attorneys’ assert that the decapitation occured after the baby had already died. “We reject the assertion that the injury suffered during this tragic event happened before the demise of the baby. 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,” her attorneys say.
“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,” they continue.
Both lawsuits are still pending and ongoing, and Edmond could not be reached for comment.