Mother Says Miss. Doctor Refused Care to Baby Girl Born at 22 Weeks

In a case echoing the tragic story of Britain's Sarah Capewell and son Jayden, a Mississippi mother says that her neonatologist refused to help her baby daughter survive because he believed she was too young, at 22 weeks 4 days gestation, to merit intervention.

Necie Franklin of Flowood, Mississippi, told (LSN) that Dr. Kenny Robbins of River Oaks Hospital refused to treat daughter Jessa Mackenzie after she was born suddenly in May, because she was three days shy of 23 weeks gestation - at which point he would have considered treating her at the hospital's Level II neonatal intensive care unit.

Franklin said that Jessa gasped for breath twice while in her arms, but was told by nurses that it was "just a reaction" - leading her to believe the child had died.  Only after Jessa had been taken away, says Franklin, did she learn that the child still had a heartbeat.

Franklin, who says she has lost a child to a premature birth before, said it "shocked" her when Robbins said he would not help Jessa breathe.

"I looked at him and said, so you're telling me you're not going to do anything for my daughter?" said Franklin.  She says Robbins "simply flat out refused."

"He actually told me this - This is what stuck in my mind most of all for days afterwards - was that I would be torturing my child to do something, because she was so little," the mother recalled.  "She weighed just over a pound - which there are children who weigh less than that, that actually make it."

"They took so long to bring her back to me that she had already passed away by the time they had brought her back to me," said Franklin.  "I don't know how many times after she left my sight that she gasped for breath.  And they didn't even put a respirator on her to make her a little more comfortable."

She says Jessa's heart beat for about an hour and a half before she died.

Lori Rushkin, Franklin's niece who was present during the ordeal, confirmed that Franklin and her family expressly pleaded for treatment for Jessa, to no avail.

"We all kept saying, 'Why not try?  What's the harm in at least trying?'"  Rushkin told LSN in a phone interview.   "We said, 'Look: miracles happen every day, it's not up to you to determine when a child lives or dies, it's going to be in God's hands.  If you try, and the child lives, then that's what she was meant to do.

"And that's when [Robbins] started talking about, 'Well, there's so many papers that have been written, and literature and books that you can go through, and see that a baby this young is not going to make it.'"

Rushkin said she and the other family members felt Robbins' attitude was "ridiculous."

"What was so bad about at least taking an hour out of his time and trying to do something for that baby?" she asked.

LSN's multiple attempts to reach Dr. Kenny Robbins for further information were not answered.  However, Dr. Robbins did reply to Franklin's request for further information, saying that "resuscitation was not indicated" for Jessa.  Only after 23 weeks would parents be allowed to choose whether to permit resuscitation, said Robbins, "because outcomes are very poor in this age range and even those who survive have a high risk of permanent complications."

Robbins said that the protocol used in Jessa's case was "a universally accepted one by neonatologists, it is in full compliance with Christian medical ethics," and that the literature he referenced was "produced by Catholic ethicists - and you can't get more strict and pro-life regarding the protection of the unborn and newly born than that."

However, Dr. Paul Byrne, M.D., the Director of Pediatrics and Neonatology at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Ohio, said he disagrees.

"There is no specific gestational age at which a baby cannot survive outside the uterus," Byrne told LSN.  While a shorter gestational age and lower birth rate increase risk of mortality, Byrne said he has known of infants as young as 18 weeks' gestation to survive.

The limiting factor that determines whether the doctor could intervene to help the baby, according to Byrne, is related to whether the baby's trachea is large enough to allow a 2.5 millimeter tube to be inserted to aid breathing.

Byrne said that Robbins' use of the term "potentially viable" was "not the correct approach."

"The baby is living," said Byrne.  "We can protect and preserve the life of the infant person.  A doctor ought not to impose or hasten death."

Franklin said she felt prompted to share her story after hearing that a similar tragedy befell British mom Sarah Capewell.  Capewell told media last month that her son Jayden was refused intervention at 21 weeks 5 days gestation, despite crying and staying alive on his own for two hours.  In that case, doctors cited guidelines offered by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics as their reason for refusing treatment.

"Just because they have literature stating that the statistics are that these children don't usually survive - that's not God in the mix," said Franklin.  "Because he can do anything, and that's what we were trying to tell the doctor."

"It needs to be brought to light that people are doing this, that doctors are doing this, ... and nobody is standing up and telling them, 'You shouldn't do this, you shouldn't play God,'" she said.

River Oaks Hosptial did not return LSN's request for comment.

Contact: Kathleen Gilbert
Publish Date: October 14, 2009
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