Woman Who Gave Birth in Vegetative State Was 'Likely' Pregnant Before

Close-up on Hacienda Healthcare sign in the parking lot of the facility.
CBS This Morning/YouTube

Medical staff at Hacienda HealthCare Facility in Phoenix, Arizona, were shocked last year when a woman in their care gave birth to a baby boy on December 29. They were stunned because they didn't even know she'd been pregnant and because the woman, who had been at the facility since 1992, was nonverbal and severely disabled. Now, investigators say the woman had not only been raped repeatedly while under the care of practical nurse Nathan Sutherland, but it's also likely that she'd given birth before.

  • In case you're wondering how the pregnancy could have gone undetected, so are investigators, who found 83 missed opportunities to diagnose it.

    According to documents obtained by CNN, "staff had noticed increased abdominal distention, and firmness" over the last couple of days to weeks leading up to the birth. And on the actual day the woman gave birth, she was "undergoing a workup for possible GI illnesses such as diverticulitis."

    But here's the most disturbing part of all: "The nurse on staff had noticed the patient no longer had abdominal distention or tenderness," the documents read. "An hour later, she returned to the room and lifted the sheets, and found that the baby's head had delivered."

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  • The woman, who is nonverbal and unable to communicate, had experienced everything from missed periods to weight gain and swollen legs.

    There was also a noticeable "mass" in her abdomen, which you would think would tip off medical staff, but apparently not.

    Her family is filing a claim against the care facility, which has since been closed, seeking $25 million for the victim and $10 million for each of her parents. If they aren't paid within two months, their lawyers are threatening to take the case to court, according to CNN.

  • In the claim, the woman's parents make several new allegations against the facility, where their daughter had been cared for since she was just 3.

    Following the December birth, the young woman was examined by staff at Maricopa County Medical Center, where doctors discovered she'd been "violated repeatedly" while under the care of Nathan Sutherland, whose DNA matched that of the baby

    But even more shocking was the determination that the pregnancy was most likely a "repeat parous event." 

    In other words, this wasn't the first time this had happened, though it's not clear whether the woman actually carried any previous pregnancy to term.

  • The repeated abuse, the claim alleges, has caused the woman both physical and emotional pain -- as well as great emotional distress for her parents.

    No doubt adding to this distress is that her family had tried to make sure she was in the care of female nurses and were assured that their wishes were being carried out. Clearly, the ball was dropped in more ways than one, because not only was she cared for by multiple male caretakers, but they were somehow allowed in her room unsupervised for significant lengths of time.

    The now 29-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld, reportedly incurred intellectual disabilities after a series of debilitating childhood seizures. Though she is nonverbal and bedridden, she is able to move some of her extremities, as well as respond to sound and make certain facial gestures, CNN reports.

  • Sutherland, 36, pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse in February, just as news spread that the facility was shutting down.

    According to the New York Post, Hacienda was ordered by the state of Arizona to hire a third-party management company to oversee operations in the wake of the scandal, but in the end "Hacienda and the outside party couldn't come to an agreement."

    The care facility, which looked after 37 patients ranging in age from infancy to adulthood, was forced to close its doors and transfer its remaining patients to nearby centers.

    Meanwhile, AZ Family reports that the baby boy was remarkably healthy at birth, considering his mother received no prenatal medical care throughout her entire pregnancy or special nutrition. However, it is not known where the baby is or who is caring for him.