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Lawsuit: Botched childbirth operation ruined Army wife's opera career

Jan. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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An opera singer and Army wife claims in a lawsuit her career is threatened by damage to her digestive and reproductive systems after an Army nurse allegedly botched a childbirth operation.

Amy Herbst and her husband, Staff Sgt. James Herbst, filed a lawsuit against the government Monday in a Cincinnati federal court. The lawsuit seeks $2.5 million for negligence, as well as pain and suffering, embarrassment and loss of income.

“She is suffering though a very embarrassing and very significant injury, and frankly, the prognosis of a fully successful repair is pretty low,” her attorney, Charles Allen, told Army Times on Wednesday.

Amy Herbst claims a nurse-midwife at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Ky., caused her injuries during the birth of her son in February 2012 when the nurse performed an episiotomy.

An episiotomy is a cut the doctor or midwife makes in the perineum, which is the area between the vagina and anus. It is done to help deliver the baby or to help prevent the muscles and skin from tearing. They are typically recommended only when the baby is in distress.

The lawsuit claims the nurse made an incision for an episiotomy during the second stage of Herbst’s labor, without informing Herbst or getting her consent. The nurse reported repairing the episiotomy with sutures.

According to Allen, Herbst’ medical records indicate her baby’s shoulder had been impeding delivery, which he expects the government to assert necessitated the episiotomy. However, there are safer alternatives to the episiotomy that hospital staff never tried, Allen said.

“There seemed to be an assumption that they didn’t need to involve the patient in the decision making ... and they were completely wrong, as a matter of law and social responsibility,” Allen said. “The patient has a right to decide what’s done with her body.”

After Herbst was released from the hospital, she “began to experience fecal urgency and incontinence, including periodic leaking of stool and excessive flatulence,” the suit states.

During a follow-up visit, another nurse told Herbst attempts to repair the incision had been unsuccessful.

A colorectal surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville told her she would need reconstructive surgery to repair the damage, but Herbst’s attorney said the surgery may not completely alleviate the results of the injuries and may have to redone multiple times throughout her life.

Herbst is unable to work as a professional opera singer as a result of the complications from her injuries, the suit alleges.

The Nashville Opera Company’s website indicates Herbst is a mezzo-soprano and was an ensemble member scheduled to perform in its production of Madame Butterfly in October 2012. Her husband was a soldier at Fort Campbell at the time but has since left the Army.

The surgery would also require that future pregnancies be delivered via Cesarean, the suit states, which would pose an added risk to her singing career.

Hospital spokesperson Laura Boyd provided a statement to Army Times, saying the Army has not reviewed the pending litigation and it would be inappropriate to offer comment.

However, she said hospital staff “care deeply about our patient’s medical care and their outcomes” and “patient safety and well-being are our first priorities.”

“The Blanchfield Army Community Hospital staff always strives to provide high quality, safe and accessible health care that fully complies with all applicable standards of care,” Boyd said.

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