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Unlicensed Utah midwife charged in newborn's death

Published June 19, 2013 3:16 pm

Crime • Eagle Mountain resident, 71, charged with negligent homicide.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An unlicensed midwife has been charged in the August death of a newborn boy from Moab.

Valerie El Halta, 71, of Eagle Mountain, was charged on Tuesday in 7th District Court with unlawful conduct, a felony for which she could serve up to five years in prison. She was also charged with negligent homicide and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors that carry a jail sentence of up to one year.

El Halta has never been licensed in Utah, according to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing. Yet according to the charges, she administered prescription medications, sutures and a medical device known as a vacuum — it pulls a newborn from the birth canal — that can only be administered by a licensed medical professional.

This was all during a high-risk delivery at the mother's Moab home, which investigators allege is off limits even to licensed midwives under Utah law. El Halta knew the mother's age and that she had three caesarean section births before, which made conducting the impending delivery at the home a risk, according to the charges.

She arrived at the home on Aug. 17, when the mother was in labor. El Halta gave her prescription pills, Cytotec, that "amped up her labor," according to the charges.

The labor continued into Aug. 18. By the evening El Halta seemed to become anxious that the mother's labor wasn't progressing. She exclaimed "let's get this show on the road" and performed a vaginal exam that caused the mother substantial pain, according to the charges.

"[El Halta] explained that she was 'breaking scar tissue' and 'just moving things along.' The mother's membranes ruptured and she and her husband perceived that the defendant began rushing to get the delivery done," the charges read.

Evening turned to night and the baby crowned as the mother pushed, but slipped back when the mother changed positions. El Halta left the room for a few minutes to give the parents some time alone, but when she returned she discovered that the newborn had no fetal heart tones, the charges add.

Investigators allege that El Halta panicked, grabbed a medical device known as a vacuum, which she had brought, attached it to the newborn's head and pulled him from the mother with one pull. But the baby was blue, listless and not breathing, according to the charges.

El Halta attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation while 911 was called. The newborn was taken to Moab Regional Hospital. El Halta told the parents to "pray to whatever God they believed in," according to the charges.

Court documents describe how after the baby was taken to the hospital, El Halta gave the mother two injections of Pitocin, and a while later, the mother lost four cups of blood at the home. El Halta advised the husband to call 911 and tried to suture the mother, the charges add.

At the hospital, medical professionals allegedly found "profound trauma" as a result of the use of the vacuum that would have killed the mother if there had been a delay in getting her to the hospital.

The newborn was later taken to Primary Children's Medical Center where he died of oxygen deprivation to the brain on Aug. 25 after he was taken off life support.

Beyond their initials, neither the mother nor baby is identified in the charges.

El Halta remains free and has been issued a summons to appear July 9 before 7th District Judge Lyle Anderson. She has no other criminal history, according to a search of Utah court records.

El Halta declined comment when reached by phone at her Eagle Mountain home. DOPL also declined to comment on a criminal matter and referred all questions to the Utah Attorney General's Office.

Kirsten Stewart contributed to this story.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda