TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For months, Laurie Giordano had been telling the story of her son to anyone who would listen — of how her Zach, a strapping 16-year-old football player, should never had collapsed in the sweltering Florida heat nearly three years ago. He died days later.
For weeks, Giordano has been driving six hours each way to meet with lawmakers in the state Capitol to push them to act, to understand the unbearable grief of a parent trying to bring meaning to a child’s death.
At the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Giordano crossed paths Thursday with Lori Alhadeff, who lost her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa in the Parkland school shooting. Both spoke about how tragedy and loss is motivating them to lobby for legislation meant to save other children and other parents from suffering.
Giordano and Alhadeff are linked over their grief of losing children and working to get lawmakers to make schools safer, albeit in different ways.
Alhadeff was back to urge lawmakers to require panic buttons at schools to more quickly summon for help. That was one of many school safety measures spawned by the shootings on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17. The bill, known as “Alyssa’s Law,” requires each public elementary, middle, and high school campus, including charter schools, to put in place a mobile system to alert authorities of emergencies.
And Giordano was again at the Capitol to take a seat at the public gallery overlooking the Senate floor, where lawmakers unanimously approved a bill renamed the “Zachary Martin Act.” The legislation would require public schools across Florida to do more to prevent heat-related injuries and deaths.
For a few minutes, they spoke about their children and their shared mission. Giordano admired the pendant hanging from Alhadeff’s neck that bears Alyssa’s smiling face.
“I don’t know how everything went down in your tragedy, but I just kept thinking that help was on the way,” Alhadeff told Giordano about that fateful day in February 2018.
“And help was not on the way,” Giordano interrupted, finishing Alhadeff’s thought.
Another Florida mother suffering a loss, Denise Williams, roamed the Capitol Thursday to begin lobbying for a new law in the name of her daughter Terissa Gautney, who died on a school bus in 2018.
Since losing their daughter, Williams and her husband have been pushing school boards and seeking the help of lawmakers to require life-saving training for school bus drivers and better communications equipment on school buses.
Williams and Alhadeff also crossed paths at the Capitol.
“Our children were lost in a traumatic situation, and my heart breaks for any other mother. And I can feel the pain that they feel,” Alhadeff said of Williams and Giordano. “Even if it was different kinds of tragedies, it’s still the pain of losing a child.”
Giordano’s son died in the summer of 2017 after collapsing in the Florida heat during practice.
After her son’s death, Giordano founded the Zach Martin Memorial Foundation, which has worked to raise awareness about the dangers of heat-related stresses. As part of its work, the foundation has donated 40 cooling tubs to schools across Florida.
Her son, she said, would still be alive if life-saving equipment were at the sidelines during practice — perhaps a water-filled tub — to immediately cool down his body.
“I’m exhausted, but it’s OK. Once this is over, I’m going to collapse for a week,” Giordano said while waiting for lawmakers to take action on her bill.
“A six-hour drive is a long time to be alone with your thoughts,” she said, “that’s when the emotions is really hard. That’s when the tears flow.”
If passed by Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, public schools would be required to have a tub or other large container filled with cold water at the sidelines during all games and practices. Schools also would be required to have defibrillators to resuscitate stricken athletes. The proposed law would also require schools to train personnel on how to recognize signs of heat-related ailments, including potentially deadly heat strokes, and to take life-saving actions.
But even at the brink of success, Giordano said there is little comfort.
“I still cry every day,” she said. “There is no consoling. No, it doesn’t get better.”
Losing a child is a devastating loss but losing one to negligence hits home far worse. Perry & Young is a nationally recognized personal injury, car accident, & commercial trucking accident law firm that has cultivated a reputation for our ability to successfully resolve even the most challenging cases. Over 35 years of experience, our award-winning team has secured multi-millions in numerous verdicts and settlements for clients across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and all over the country. Learn more about our services, your potential case and rights, and how we can help by calling (850) 215-7777 for a FREE consultation.
A recent GateHouse Media and Herald-Tribune investigation, “Failure to Deliver,” found such deliveries are twice as likely to end in infant death and injury as those inside a hospital. And families have little recourse when something goes wrong. Among the incidents described in the new reports are two breech babies that got stuck in the birth canal and either died or suffered severe brain injury; a baby that died in utero to a mother who was two weeks past her due date, and a lifeless baby whose mother’s water broke more than a day before being admitted to the birthing center in active labor.
All those scenarios require midwives to consult with or transfer clients to a physician with hospital privileges, according to state regulations. One midwife appeared in two separate, fatal incidents. Naomi Mizrachi, of Naples, delivered a baby in April who was transferred to the hospital for breathing difficulty and later removed from life support from kidney failure, the report states.
In May, she transferred a laboring mother whose breech baby had been stuck in the birth canal for 33 minutes. It was delivered at the hospital unresponsive and put on life support. The baby later died, the report states.
It’s unclear what, if anything, the state is doing to investigate the reported incidents. None of the midwives involved has faced sanctions related to the events, according to the Department of Health website — even when the details suggest potential violations in standards of care. “There is not a single one in there with disciplinary actions,” said Amy Young, a lobbyist for the Florida district of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which advocated for passage of the adverse-incident reporting legislation. “Where is the accountability? Where is the discipline?”
Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton said the agency immediately reviews each report to determine if violations occurred, but he declined to comment on whether any triggered investigations. Such investigations aren’t public unless the agency determines a probable cause.
One of the reported incidents occurred on April 29 and details a mother who died from an amniotic fluid embolism during an attempted home birth. The case matches that of 37-year-old Jacksonville woman Lauren Accurso, whose sudden death was widely reported by local and national media, including People magazine.
After passing out in a birthing tub, Accurso and her unborn son were rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where the infant was delivered by emergency Cesarean section, the family told news outlets at the time.
The boy suffered “significant brain injury due to a prolonged period without oxygen during his birth,” his father wrote on the family’s GoFundMe page. He died about two weeks later when he was removed from life support.
Amniotic fluid embolism is a rare and unpreventable condition in which amniotic fluid enters the mother’s blood stream and causes an allergic reaction leading to heart failure and shock.
It’s fatal for the mother most cases, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The infant survival rate, however, is around 70 percent, according to a study published in the spring 2016 issue of the Journal of Anaesthesiology Clinical Pharmacology. “Neurologic status of the infant is directly related to the time elapsed between maternal arrest and delivery,” the authors wrote. W. Gregory Wilkerson, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at University Community Hospital in Tampa, said he has seen one case of amniotic fluid embolism in his 30 years of practice.
“The lady died,” Wilkerson said, “but they saved the baby.”
The reports also include the attempted breech birth of baby Brenden Charles Fisher in January at the now-shuttered Rosemary Birthing Home in Sarasota. During the incident, profiled by GateHouse Media and the Herald-Tribune earlier this year, midwife Jordan Shockley was able to deliver the baby’s body, but his head got stuck behind his mother’s pelvic bones.
Brenden eventually lost his oxygen supply and went into cardiac arrest. He survived, but he suffered severe brain damage.
Rosemary’s then-owner, Harmony Miller, also filed a separate report. This one related to a baby she delivered in March. The infant showed signs of breathing and heart trouble and was transferred to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, where it spent a week in the newborn intensive care unit.
“Those reports make obvious we have a problem,” Wilkerson said. “I thought it would just be a couple of incidents, but there are a lot of them.”
Florida’s out-of-hospital birth rate has nearly doubled from less than 1 percent of all deliveries in 2003 to nearly 2 percent in 2017, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s nearly 4,000 Florida babies born at home or in a birthing center in 2017 alone — most without problem.
Prior to the passage of the 2018 law, licensed midwives were required only to submit annual reports tallying hospital transfers and deaths along with a total count of clients and deliveries.
But the state struggled for years to get full compliance. Just one in three midwives submitted a report in 2016 and one in nine submitted in 2017, according to minutes of the Council of Licensed Midwifery, which receives the reports. Last year, the council achieved a 97 percent compliance rate.
Some of the submitted reports were incomplete or inaccurate, however, omitting certain deaths and hospital transfers, according to a GateHouse Media and Herald-Tribune investigation.
Birth centers also must file annual reports providing similar statistics to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. Neither set of reports trigger automatic case reviews. The lack of information about adverse out-of-hospital birth incidents prompted concern among some healthcare advocates, including retired Tampa OBGYN Robert W. Yelverton Sr., who worked with legislators to pass the law.
“Every time we tried to do something to improve the safety of out-of-hospital births we were told, ‘Where’s the data?’” said Yelverton, who serves on the state Pregnancy Associated Mortality Review Committee and was a former chair of the state district of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Now, midwives must report to the state within 15 days any incident involving maternal death, maternal hemorrhagic shock or transfusion, fetal or newborn death, certain traumatic physical or neurological birth injuries, or certain transfers of a newborn to neonatal intensive care.
Previously only adverse childbirth-related incidents occurring in a physician’s office or a hospital were reported to the state. Those reports also trigger an immediate review.
The physician and hospital reports also are required for non-childbirth related incidents. They include surgical errors, accidents, and injuries involving all patients. Together, they total 973 in the same one-year time frame, according to the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration, which collects them. Neither agency could immediately provide a count of childbirth-only incidents, for comparison.
Yelverton called the new reports a good start but demanded the state now take action in cases where midwife negligence might have contributed to the adverse events.
“So now we have the data coming in, but we have no evidence that it’s being acted upon,” Yelverton said. “That was the object — not to just accumulate data, but to have something done to improve the quality of care for women of this state.”
Perry & Young is a nationally recognized personal injury, medical malpractice and property damage firm that has cultivated a reputation for our ability to successfully resolve even the most challenging cases. Over 35 years of experience, our award-winning team has secured multi-millions in numerous verdicts and settlements for clients across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the country. Learn more about our services, your potential case and rights, and how we can help by calling (850) 215-7777 for a FREE consultation.