clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Did ER doctor suffocate baby?

Snow swirled thickly outside when 3-day-old Conor Shamus McInnerney, snuggling at his mother's breast, suddenly stopped breathing and went still.

Thirty-nine minutes after his frantic parents summoned paramedics on the night of Jan. 12, emergency room doctors had the baby's heart pumping again. But he still lay limply on the table, his pupils fixed and dilated. After going so long with no detectable pulse, his chances for survival were considered "dismal," according to a subsequent report by the hospital executive committee.The parents agreed to halt life-support, and Conor was pronounced dead in their arms moments later, at 9:54 p.m.

Martin and Michelle McInnerney tearfully departed Olympic Memorial Hospital, along with Dr. Eugene Turner, the baby's pediatrician who had overseen the emergency room heroics.

But half an hour later, a nurse returning to the ER found the infant gasping on a hospital cart, his skin turning pink.

Turner hastened back but told a nurse not to call the McInnerneys, saying it would be too much for them to endure their child dying twice, hospital reports say.

Working with another emergency room doctor and then on his own, Turner spent close to two hours more trying to revive the infant.

But what he did then confounded nurses and put him under scrutiny by local police and state medical authorities, with the parents considering a lawsuit. According to reports, Turner declared the baby brain-dead, then "manually obstructed the airway of the child." A nurse described the doctor "plugging off the infant's nose."

A declaration of brain death is usually made only with sophisticated equipment that Olympic Memorial, the only hospital in this logging town of 18,300, does not have.

"It felt awful to us, like it was a done deal," says an unidentified nurse quoted in records compiled by the committee. "I felt like he was hurrying this along; I felt like it was taking a life."

The nurse adds:

"Dr. Turner said, `I can't stand it, I can't have this go on anymore.' I . . . felt that he was feeling great compassion for the infant, that he felt that death was inevitable, let's expedite it.

"I saw him plugging off the infant's nose. We were shocked, numb."

In reports, the nurse identifies another nurse who also saw Turner block the child's nose and mouth with his hand.

Turner, 62, has a reputation for integrity and sound medical judgment and has treated multiple generations of some families. He has surrendered his hospital privileges pending completion of the investigations but is still treating children at Peninsula Children's Clinic.

Normally, a child brought in to Olympic Memorial with breathing distress would receive some preliminary treatment then be airlifted 63 miles southeast to Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle, the region's premier child-care facility, says Raedell Warren, an Olympic Memorial spokeswoman.

But the snowstorm that night had grounded medical flights and fouled attempts to arrange ground transportation.

Olympic Memorial has neither an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which measures brain waves, nor a neurologist to interpret such results. The emergency room was in contact that night with personnel at Children's in Seattle, Warren said.

According to minutes of the hospital executive committee's four-hour meeting, members questioned why Turner felt he should "assist the infant in stopping breathing" and decided not to go to the police for fear "the local community may not be able to cope with such a report."

On Jan. 20, an orderly told a Clallam County sheriff's deputy the hospital was rife with rumors that Turner had smothered Conor. The case was referred to Port Angeles police.