A bit of hope

February 26, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Grief, life after loss, Love, Sawyer | 5 Comments
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quote - caterpillar

Sawyer’s pathologist emailed in 2011 that “none of the genetic-DNA mutations that are known to be associated with/responsible for abnormal heart rhythms has been identified in Sawyer.”  No one knows what caused Sawyer’s death.  I try not to think about this fact often but about once a year Evan or I email Sawyer’s pathologist to touch base.  The response is always kind but does not have any new information.  However, this year the doctor wrote back that in 2010 they had “sequenced a limited number of genes and nothing was found.  We could go back and do whole exome sequencing” again (with 2016 medical advances). 

This email gives me a bit hope for so many reasons.  One, the doctors have not forgotten about Sawyer.  Two, there is the slightest chance that one day we might know what caused Sawyer’s death.  This will not bring him back but maybe it will prevent another family from losing their child. 

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Pathology is No Place for Politics: Update

November 6, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Posted in Grief, life after loss | Leave a comment
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In the spring I wrote a post about a Mississippi woman who was accused of murdering  her stillborn baby.  Rennie Gibbs was 16 years old and 36 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to an area emergency room.  Her baby was diagnosed with “fetal demise” – the  umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck.  Doctors induced labor and Gibbs delivered a stillborn daughter she named Samiya.

Gibbs’ case is part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases in which women are prosecuted when their babies are stillborn or otherwise die and traces of drugs are found in their system.   In this case,  medical facts establish the cord as the cause of death.  Medical professionals, including Sawyer’s pathologist, determined that it is impossible to conclude that drug use on the part of the mother caused stillbirth.

The charges have been dropped against Rennie.  Thank you to Chris for commenting on my past post with the update.  Every mom feels guilt when their child dies – even without being charged with murder.  I am so glad that the judge in Mississippi dismissed the charges.  He ruled that the “law was unclear in Mississippi as to the appropriate charge, if any, to be levied when a pregnant woman allegedly consumed illegal drugs and allegedly caused the death of her unborn child.”

Pathology is No Place for Politics

March 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Posted in Grief, venting | 6 Comments
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I read an article recently about a young mother losing a child that presented a whole new take on a sad situation.

The death of any child is heart breaking, and a horrible situation no parent should have to suffer. In this case, a poor 16-year-old in Mississippi lost her baby at 36 weeks to what was most likely the frighteningly all too common situation of where the umbilical cord gets tangled around the baby and causes death. The teenager had to deliver her stillborn child and figure out how to deal with such a sad and horrid situation that would leave any mom filled with guilt (even though there was nothing she could have done to prevent it). It must have been even harder to be only 16 and having to deal with one of life’s greatest tragedies.

But then, for this girl, things got exponentially worse. Apparently in Mississippi at the time there was a pathologist who has quite a reputation – for being politically motivated and having an agenda. When he found evidence that the girl in question had used drugs during her pregnancy, the pathologist concluded that the drugs had led to the baby’s death. And he, along with local law enforcement (which also has an agenda to reduce women’s reproductive rights) decided to charge this 16-year-old girl with murdering her child. They alleged that her use of drugs was a “depraved heart” killing of her child.

They did all this despite the fact that no medical facts support that conclusion. They ignored the science that points to the cord as the cause of death and ignored the medical facts that show that while drug use is certainly a terrible idea for a pregnant woman, it does not cause death of the child (and not in this case).

For six years now this now 24-year-old from an impoverished background with drug issues has not only had to deal with the death of her child, she has had to deal with being accused of killing her child, of having a “depraved heart,” and with the very real fear of being tried and found guilty of murder by a Mississippi jury.

I just cannot imagine.

When Sawyer died, since his heart stopped at home, investigators questioned us in the ER.  Then they followed Evan and I home from the hospital to view the scene and talk more about what happened. They quickly concluded that what ever exactly happened to Sawyer, it was biological, not something that anyone did to him and not something that could have been prevented by some action we could have taken (or not taken) at home.

We knew that, logically, but it was also helpful to hear that from those who looked into it. Further, the pediatric pathologist who examined Sawyer to try to determine the cause of death also ruled out any external causes, and ultimately focused on his heart stopping, likely due to a genetic, undiagnosed arrhythmia. (It’s still a working theory, but it’s the best any doctor can say at this point.)  The pathologist was compassionate and helpful in trying to get us not to blame ourselves for Sawyer’s death. She explained things so we could understand them, and she spent extra time meeting with us, emailing with us, and even went above and beyond to help us get Sawyer’s DNA in a study at the Mayo Clinic looking for certain arrhythmias that she and some other scientists believe may account for many of the SIDS and SUIDS deaths that still occur far too often. She also happens to be quoted in the article — taking a sane, rational, scientific-supported view of the case, unlike the Mississippi pathologist out to “get” this girl.

I cannot fathom how this girl must feel having had not help and comfort from investigators and a pathologist, but blame, condemnation and being charged with “depraved heart murder.” It must be like a second sledgehammer to her own heart. First, her baby dies. That is heart-crushing on its own. Then, she is accused of killing her child and must fight for her own freedom and future. That guilt and feat must be not just heart-crushing but soul-smashing. For a sixteen-year-old girl from poverty probably few of us can truly comprehend.

I am not excusing her drug use. As a mom, protecting our children is of the utmost importance. I’d never do something that might harm my children. She made that mistake. But I cannot judge her for that, because I do not know her or her true circumstances, or why she did that.

What I do know is that science says she did not kill her child. What I also CAN understand is the depths of despair and guilt a mom faces when her child dies. No woman should go thru that. No girl should face that, let along without care and support of those around her. To blame her for her child’s death here, to prosecute her for murder, to claim to the world she has a “depraved heart,” must be causing her unimaginable pain.

I can barely make it though losing Jake and Sawyer even with being told by everyone that I did everything right, but that some things cannot be fixed or prevented. Without that love, caring and support, and in the face of accusations of killing my own child (no matter how wrong-headed, illogical, unsupported by science and politically driven they might clearly be) I don’t know how I would be able to go on.

 

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