Utah midwife charged in preemie death
Premature twin died after woman allegedly ignored advice to take the mother to a hospital.
Published: June 3, 2014 09:25AM
Updated: June 3, 2014 10:37PM

Police say a lay midwife in Cedar City refused to take a laboring mother of premature twins to a hospital, falsified emergency medical information, and tried to stop the hemorrhaging mother from leaving the midwife’s in-home birth center in an ambulance as her infant son died.

But police documents connected with the investigation go further, claiming other babies died under the care of Vicki Dawn Sorensen and her daughter, Camille Wilcox, and alleging that the midwives have buried infants’ remains in clandestine graves.

In manslaughter charges filed Monday, police wrote that Sorensen in 2012 took on a client who was pregnant with twins due in February 2013. Sorensen, 54, described a twin birth as a “routine situation” and told the mother she delivered twins on a regular basis, police wrote. Licensed midwives in Utah may not deliver twins, but licensure is voluntary and Sorensen was working without a license.

The mother began laboring in December 2012, at 32 to 33 weeks of pregnancy. The expectant parents “became greatly concerned” that the twins would be born premature outside of a hospital — Sorensen had said she would not try to deliver the babies before 36 weeks — but Sorensen told the parents not to worry because they could go to a hospital if problems were to arise, police wrote.

She told the mother that the “one reason” she felt confident in delivering the babies was that she believed they weighed 5 pounds each, but they weighed less, police wrote. She allegedly told the mother to take a bath in Epsom salts to stall labor.

When the mother went to the birth center later that day, a naturopathic doctor there tried to administer an I.V. of magnesium to stop labor, police wrote.

“The mother stated that [the doctor] was unaware of how to administer the substance and had to call the hospital to ask how, and to ask the amount,” police wrote.

Sorensen months earlier had asked another Iron County midwife for help delivering the twins, police wrote; Wilcox called that midwife again when the mother went into labor, but the midwife declined because she “had a horrible feeling” that the twins were too premarture, police wrote. She urged Wilcox and Sorensen to take the mother to a hospital, police wrote.

Wilcox said she and Sorensen wanted to take the mother to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George — 45 minutes away in good weather — but the roads were too bad for safe travel. When urged to take the mother to the local Valley View Medical Center, Wilcox said she and Sorensen “did not like” that hospital and would rather handle the delivery in their birth center.

In a 2013 interview on the blog Woman of Service, Wilcox said: “They don’t love us. They really treat our clients really horrible at this hospital. If it’s not an eminent [sic] problem then we will transfer to St. George.”

The back-up midwife remained worried, so she called Valley View staff and warned them to prepare for the possibility that the premature twins would be brought in.

The first twin, A.S. was born in the birth center, police wrote.

“The mother remembers that A.S. made some grunting sounds as if he was trying to breathe, but she never heard him cry.”

The twins’ grandmother, a pediatric nurse, noticed A.S. was deep purple and not breathing, but she detected a weak heartbeat.

“[Sorensen] put a liquid substance down A.S.’s throat and Wilcox began looking for an oxygen bottle,” police wrote. “Wilcox found one bottle, but it was broken and Wilcox had to scramble around to find another.”

But the midwives had no device to force respirations or clear the boy’s respiratory system, police wrote. The grandmother was “shocked by [Sorensen’s] lack of equipment and preparation” and said that, with proper equipment, she could have saved the boy.

An ambulance arrived at the birth center, and a medic found Sorensen performing CPR on A.S., using a technique that was “12 years out of date,” police wrote.

When the medics asked for the baby’s medical history, Sorensen claimed she did not know when the baby was born, his gestational age, or how long CPR had been underway; instead she said she was not present during the boy’s birth and claimed the mother “had just walked in off the street for help with the delivery.”

As the medics took A.S. and pulled away from the birth center, the ambulance driver suddenly hit the brakes, police wrote. The twins’ father and grandfather opened the rear doors and shoved the mother into the ambulance. She was bleeding profusely and still laboring with the second twin; Sorensen had not told the medics another baby was on the way, police wrote.

“Once the mother was in the ambulance, ... [Sorensen] came out yelling, requesting the mother come back into the wellness center to deliver the second baby,” police wrote.

The second twin, S.S., was delivered by Caesarean section and was resuscitated. A.S. died at Valley View Medical Center.

Doctors at Valley View and Dixie Regional said both twins were born in peril, but A.S. would have had “a 100 percent chance of survival” had he been born in a hospital, police wrote.

Sorensen was charged Monday in 5th District Court with second-degree felony manslaughter and two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. Wilcox was not charged in connection with the case. Sorensen could not be reached for comment.

While investigating the death of A.S., detectives found evidence of “several deaths of infants as well as cases where the newborn infant and/or the delivering mother suffered serious bodily injury as a result of techniques used by Sorensen and Wilcox during childbirth,” according to court documents.

An apprentice of Sorensen told investigators she discovered Sorensen was misrepresenting her certification to clients and carried prescription drugs illegally. The trainee recounted a birth where Sorensen used oxytocin to stop a woman’s hemorrhaging and then delayed sending the woman to a hospital; “By the time that the client was transferred to a medical facility, she was nearly deceased due to the hemorrhage,” police wrote.

Another “health care provider in the midwifery field” told police that at least one stillborn infant was buried on Sorensen’s property, investigators wrote. In 2007, sheriff’s deputies investigated several similar reports of infant graves but closed the case “due to lack of cooperation from the victims,” noting that witnesses reported many of Sorensen’s clients were undocumented immigrants and polygamous families wanting to avoid contact with government officials.

After Sorensen and Wilcox learned of the new investigation in 2013, detectives took a helicopter over Sorensen’s home and found footprints in fresh snow leading to an area of disturbed ground among thick sagebrush, police wrote. Five mounds appeared next to each other, with unusual vegetation growing above them — signs of a burial site, forensic anthropologists told police. Dogs searched the property, but court records do not indicate their findings. Sorensen faces no charges relating to clandestine graves.

It is the second criminal case in less than a year against a lay midwife in Utah accused of contributing to the death of an infant.

In September, Eagle Mountain midwife Valerie El Halta, 72, pleaded no contest in 7th District Court to class A misdemeanor charges of unprofessional conduct and reckless endangerment in the death of a Moab infant whom she allegedly delivered with the help of a prescription drug and a vacuum tool she was not authorized to use.

El Halta was sentenced to 72 months probation and ordered to pay $78,700 in restitution. No jail time was ordered, but El Halta, as part of a plea deal, agreed to not practice midwifery, or mentor or train other midwives in Utah.

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty