Expert: Comatose woman may not have shown signs of pregnancy

Friday, January 11, 2019

PHOENIX -- A doctor examined an Arizona woman in a vegetative state nearly nine months before she gave birth but did not find she was pregnant, and medical experts said Thursday it's possible she displayed no outward signs workers who cared for her every day would have noticed either.

Police are looking for her rapist and say it appears none of the staff members at a Phoenix long-term care facility knew about the pregnancy until the baby was born Dec. 29, a notion drawing skepticism. But the 29-year-old woman, who is described in a medical report as having tubes to feed her and help her breathe, may not have had a swollen belly, according to a doctor of fetal medicine.

While factors remain unknown, such as how far along she was, someone who is fed the same amount from a tube every day might not show any noticeable changes, especially by staffers who don't work with pregnant patients, said Dr. C. Kevin Huls, a clinical assistant professor and maternal-fetal medicine fellowship director at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

The mother could lose weight in other places such as her face or arms if a fetus is consuming nutrients, Huls added.

"A good way to understand it is that really, the baby's going to continue to grow even at the expense of the mom's nutrition," Huls said. "So, her weight may not change because she's not taking in additional calories. There may be changes to her body that are going to go undetected in a chronic care condition or at a facility like this."

The revelation an incapacitated woman was sexually assaulted inside a care facility has horrified advocates for people with disabilities and the community at large. The provider's CEO resigned this week, and the state said the center has made safety changes.

A doctor examined the woman April 16 and found "no change" in her health, writing the exam was external only, according to Maricopa County Superior Court documents. Her mother submitted the results of the physical as part of an annual report state law requires of legal guardians.

Phoenix police learned of the situation when they received a call Dec. 29 about a newborn in distress at the Hacienda HealthCare facility. Officers launched a sex crime investigation when it was determined the mother was in a vegetative state, police spokesman Tommy Thompson said.

"She was not in a position to give consent to any of this," Thompson said.

The baby and the woman are recovering at an area hospital, and their conditions were not released.

It's possible the woman won't have any additional long-term complications from giving birth. Women in a vegetative state after accidents or strokes have successfully delivered babies, Huls said.

Her family, who are members of the San Carlos Apache tribe in southeastern Arizona, said in a statement through their attorney that they will care for the baby boy.

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