Hospital Refuses Care for Premature Baby
A tiny baby boy named River is someone who will be ingrained in my memory forever.
His life was short, his story tragic. I met his family this summer and promised to help them share his life and story with the world.
Andrew and Mackenzie Miller’s first baby, River, was born early and left to die. Once River was born, the doctors and nurses at Ball Memorial Hospital refused any type of medical intervention, despite pleas from his family to help.
Mackenzie Miller was admitted to Ball Memorial hospital in preterm labor at only 22 weeks and 1 day gestation. In order for her baby to even have a chance to survive, medical intervention was a must.
“Please, help our baby!” the family begged.
It was much too early for him to survive on his own.
Mackenzie realized this, and she also knew keeping River in her womb as long as possible was his best chance. Mackenzie stayed in her hospital bed, on an incline, fighting her body’s demand to push.
Though Mackenzie was willing to do it, the Millers knew she could not remain inclined in her bed or inhibit River’s birth forever. River was coming. What was the doctor’s plan once he was born? How was he going to help the baby?
The Millers were told there was no plan to help him live. No matter what, because he was not yet 23 weeks gestation, the plan was to let River die. Without an advanced neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Ball Memorial, the doctors said they could not and would not try to save River.
Andrew, Mackenzie, and the other family members present could not believe what the doctors were saying. Surely, there was something they could do. But would they?
Andrew asked for his wife to be transferred to different facility with a NICU. The hospital said, “No.”
The Millers asked for a steroid injection to help speed up River’s lung development. The hospital said, “No.”
River was three days away from being able to receive the steroid injection, and yet the hospital would not administer the shot. Doctors said no matter what the injection would do, River would not be 23 weeks old, and therefore, they would not try to save him.
In other words, according to hospital policy, a baby is not worthy of existence until he is 23 weeks old.
During Mackenzie’s stay at Ball Memorial, the Millers asked doctors for every type of assistance they could think of to try to save River when he was born. The consistent response was, “There is nothing we can do.”
While Mackenzie fought contractions and labor, attempting to keep River inside her womb as long as possible, her family implored the nurses and doctors, “Please, do something! You have to do something—anything! But don’t just do nothing!”
A nurse finally told the family bluntly what the rest of the staff had been trying to get across:
“Let me be clear. When the baby is born, we will do nothing.”
No manner of fervent pleading would change the nurse’s refusal to help, nor any other nurse or doctor’s answer, for that matter. A nurse pulled a family member aside and told her, “The baby will die. You trying to give Mackenzie hope is only going to make it worse for her when it happens. You’re only delaying the inevitable.”
The Millers were told baby River would most likely be born so small he would just fall out without assistance. Doctors warned the family River would be deformed and discolored and probably dead when he came out, so much so, he wouldn’t even look like a baby. They said let us know when she has him.
Mackenzie was left to deliver River alone, without doctors or nurses assisting.
There was a problem, though. When Mackenzie could no longer fight the impending premature delivery of her baby and the time came for him to be born, River was much bigger than originally presumed. In fact, he was so large his head was stuck, and doctors had to show up to help deliver the baby after all.
The family was shocked to see River looked like a normal baby. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t deformed. He wasn’t discolored. He kicked his feet, he took a breath, he held his daddy’s finger.
Surely, now that they could see River was bigger, and therefore possibly older than they’d thought, the doctors would help him! Now that they could see River kicking and trying to breathe, they would at least TRY something to save him! Extremely premature babies have survived before (see this story and this story), maybe River could too!
But, no, Ball Memorial Hospital was resolute in its position to do absolutely nothing to save a very young and tiny human, because they said he wasn’t old enough. River was allowed to die, without even an attempt at life saving measures whatsoever.
The staff at Ball Memorial failed the Miller family, and it’s not because they tried to save their son and failed to do so. They failed this family because they would not even try anything at all to save River based solely on his gestational age. He was born breathing and kicking, much bigger than they thought he’d be, showing signs of life, and yet they STILL refused to help.
River lived for two hours and passed away surrounded by his loving family. Andrew and Mackenzie are thankful for the very short time they had with their first little boy, and they hope sharing River’s story will keep his memory alive.
If you would like to leave a note for Andrew and Mackenzie, you can do so here. I know they will be encouraged to hear how River has touched your heart.
Because of his gestational age alone, River was not seen as a human being worth saving. The culture of death is so pervasive in the United States it has even permeated the walls and halls and policies of hospitals in Indiana. The pro-death camp has influenced even the very professionals who are supposed to save and protect human lives.
If Ball Memorial Hospital is guilty of denying this little baby a chance at life, then so is our Indiana legislature. When given the chance to protect all babies at conception last year, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Ben Smaltz said, “No.” If all babies were protected at conception, doctors would have treated River as a human being worthy of life saving measures, and they would have at least attempted to save him (even just transferring his mother to a hospital with an advanced NICU!), instead of leaving him to die without a chance.
Tragically, it is too late for River, but there is still hope for babies like him in the future. We have one pro-life hero in the Indiana Statehouse--Rep. Curt Nisly. Last year, he did what no other legislator before him dared to do and filed the Protection at Conception bill, which would treat the unborn as any other living individual.
Despite Republican establishment telling him, “It’s not the right time,” Rep. Curt Nisly has taken a stand for pre-born Hoosiers again this year and once more filed Protection at Conception, HB 1097.