Many in the country were stunned to learn a woman in a vegetative state for more than a decade had given birth while at the Arizona nursing facility, Hacienda Healthcare. But the incident is not the first of its kind.
“It’s physically possible to have a baby in that state,” Dr. Deborah Feldman, director for maternal fetal medicine at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, told InsideEdition.com.
Feldman treated a woman 20 years ago who was 16 weeks pregnant when she had a stroke that left her with irreversible brain damage. The woman’s parents chose to keep their daughter on life support so she could deliver her baby.
“The baby did well [and] the baby’s grandmother raised him,” Feldman said. “He did well and thrived.”
That patient and case sparked Feldman’s interest in such instances, and though she most often comes across women who were pregnant before entering into vegetative states, sex abuse cases involving a comatose victim, such as that believed to have occurred at Hacienda, have happened before, she said.
“It’s rare,” Feldman said. “[But] it happens.”
In 1996, a comatose woman from Rochester, New York gave birth to a baby boy after being raped when she was 29 by a nursing assistant at a Brighton facility.
The woman, whose was referred to in reports on the case as “Kathy,” had been in a persistent vegetative state since she had swerved off the road to avoid hitting a deer and hit a tree in 1985.
The crash occurred during Kathy’s second semester of her freshman year at Cornell University and brought to an end the young woman’s pursuit of a future career in science. She had spent her high school career filling her college resume with extracurricular activities and impressive grades, only scaling back to take on an after-school job to save money for the upcoming tuition.
“There was a big deal about who was going to be valedictorian, and she was in the running," her friend Vicky Hansen told The New York Times at the time. "It came down to the wire."
But since her accident, Kathy had been institutionalized, and in February 1995, she was placed at the Westfall Health Care Center in Brighton.
Kathy was raped six months later in August 1995.
Authorities four months later noticed her stomach was swollen, and tests revealed she was pregnant.
Kathy’s Roman Catholic family chose to allow the pregnancy to continue and adopted the baby, a boy weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces when he was born nine weeks premature on March 18, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"She was always pretty pro-life," Hansen said of deeply religious Kathy, noting she stated the position when they were in class together at their all-girls Catholic high school.
Police at the time said Kathy’s family was motivated by the belief that she would not have wanted to have an abortion and by the desire to see their daughter live on. Kathy died in 1997, one month before her son turned 2.
The birth of Kathy’s baby brought about the arrest of her rapist, as DNA analysis showed John Horace, a 51-year-old nurse’s aide who had started working at Westfall the month Kathy was assaulted, to be the father of her child.
Horace had been dismissed from Westfall Sept. 14 when a patient with multiple sclerosis accused him of groping her, an incident for which he was sentenced to six months in prison. By the time Horace was shown to be Kathy’s attacker, he had been sentenced to another six months in prison for having posed as a sex therapist and performed gynecological exams in a makeshift office in his basement.
Authorities went on to learn he had earlier been forced out of at least three health care jobs dating back to 1982, one for allegedly proposition a patient with mental illness. Because no one pressed charges, the history of abuse did not show up on his employment record, the Chicago Tribune wrote.
Horace was found guilty of rape and sexual abuse in Kathy’s case, and he was sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison. He was freed under the state’s conditional release program in March 2013, but nine months later was again arrested for violating his parole by driving a vehicle and having two pornographic DVDs in his home. Horace has since remained behind bars.
Kathy’s case, which was believed by medical officials to be the first of its kind, inspired the passing of “Kathy’s Law” in 1998, which imposes a stiffer penalty for health care workers found guilty of abusing nursing home patients.
That same year, another woman at a Massachusetts nursing facility was found to have been impregnated when she was raped while in a vegetative state.
The unnamed 24-year-old woman had been quadriplegic and in a coma for several years when in October 1998, a doctor at the Town Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lawrence noticed she appeared to be uncomfortable.
The woman was in fact five months pregnant and that month, she was taken to Lawrence General Hospital, where she gave birth 14 weeks prematurely to a baby girl in critical condition.
Israel Moret, a registered nurse’s aide with no prior record who worked at the facility, was arrested and charged with rape after DNA testing revealed him to be the father of the baby.
Moret pleaded guilty to rape and abusing a patient in a long-term facility, and was sentenced to 11 years in prison, plus 10 years of probation. The maximum sentence for rape is 20 years. Moret —who reportedly would ask his attorney “How is my daughter?” — was barred from contacting the victim, her family, or her child and from working with the disabled.
The victim’s parents were granted permanent guardianship of their granddaughter, who suffered severe brain damage and who, like her mother, needed round-the-clock care.
“Our family now has a second broken child because of what he did,” the victim’s sister said in court, SouthCoast Today reported in 2000. “His selfish actions brought into this world a life with little hope and a bleak future.
“He has sentenced our family to sorrow for life," the victim’s sister continued. "Our hearts sink when we hold her, hear the machines that keep her alive and anticipate her future.”
The victim died at the age of 25.
The cases in New York and Massachusetts in the '90s led many to question the safety precautions in place at facilities where care is administered to people with disabilities.
“Taking advantage of a person in that state is just horrendous,” John Parrinello, who served as the attorney for Kathy’s family, told WHAM-TV.
The issue was raised once again with news that a 29-year-old woman in a vegetative state for more than a decade had given birth while at Hacienda Healthcare.
Authorities at Hacienda Healthcare said they are cooperating with the police investigation and announced they have launched their own probe to determine who impregnated the woman.
Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley has been hired to conduct an “exhaustive” internal review “to quickly identify the perpetrator and to make sure that person is brought to justice,” Hacienda said in a statement released Sunday.
“Mr. Romley will have unfettered access to every facet of Hacienda’s business – including all the records related to this matter and all the operational procedures related to the ICF-ID unit,” the statement said. “We will do everything we can to aid this review and, once it is complete, to make sure this unprecedented situation never, ever happens again.”