CEDAR CITY – The state of Utah through the Iron County Attorney’s office brought charges Monday against a Cedar City lay midwife on account of the death of a premature twin in her Cedar City birth center on Dec. 18, 2012.
Vicki Dawn Sorensen, 54, was charged with one second-degree felony for manslaughter and two class-A misdemeanors for reckless endangerment. The charges were brought by Information filed Monday with the Fifth District Court in Iron County, on the basis of Cedar City Police Detective Mike Bleak’s probable cause statement dated June 2, 2014, and Deputy Iron County Attorney G. Tyler Romeril’s review and screening of investigative materials in the matter.
According to the charging documents, on Dec. 18, 2012, Sorensen did not transfer her client to a hospital when the woman, pregnant with twins, began labor two months before her due date. Instead, Sorenson had the woman deliver in her Cedar City birth center without proper equipment or up-to-date CPR skills.
The mother and father were first introduced to Sorensen when they had her help deliver their first child. When the mother discovered she was pregnant again in May 2012, she made the decision to go to Sorensen for prenatal care. Sorensen informed the mother that her due date was approximately Feb. 18, 2013.
When the mother discovered she was having twins, she questioned Sorensen concerning her ability to safely deliver the twins, Bleak said in the statement. Sorensen assured the mother that this was a routine situation for her, that she successfully delivered twins on a regular basis, and that there was no danger in delivering her twins.
The mother awoke the morning of Dec. 17, 2012, having slight contractions. According to the charging documents, Sorensen told the mother that it was a good thing and that the babies were moving into the perfect position for birth. Sorensen further told the mother that if she continued to follow her prescribed diet, the twins would not come early.
When the mother began experiencing regular contractions the next morning, Sorensen told her to lie down and go back to sleep and the contractions would stop. By early afternoon when the mother began experiencing strong contractions, Sorensen told her to come to the birthing center. The mother’s cervix was checked and she was told to go home and take a bath in Epsom salt.
When the mother went to the birth center two hours later, Joe Holcomb, a naturopathic doctor, tried to administer an IV of magnesium to help stop the labor.
“The mother stated that Dr. Holcomb was unaware of how to administer the substance and had to call the hospital to ask how, and to ask the amount to administer,” Bleak said in the probable cause statement. “Because of his inexperience, Dr. Holcomb only administered half of the prescribed dose through the IV; this did not stop the labor, so he then administered the second half. The contractions did not stop.”
Camille Wilcox, Sorensen’s daughter, called another Iron County lay midwife, Lily Ann Zerkle, and asked for help delivering the twins while the mother was in labor. But, Bleak said in his statement, Zerkle declined because she said she considered the birth to be high-risk. She urged Wilcox and Sorensen to take the mother to a hospital to ensure a safe delivery.
She and Sorensen wanted to take the mother to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Wilcox said, but the roads were too bad for safe travel. When urged to take the mother to the local Cedar City Valley View Medical Center, Wilcox said that Sorensen and herself “did not like” that hospital and so they were going to go through with the delivery in their birth center.
In a 2013 interview on the blog Woman of Service, when asked about transporting clients to the local Valley View Medical Center, Wilcox said: “They don’t love us. They really treat our clients really horrible at this hospital. If it’s not an eminent problem then we will transfer to St. George.”
Zerkle said she remained concerned so she called Valley View staff and warned them to be prepared for the premature babies when they came in.
The first twin was born in the birth center.
The mother remembers that the baby made some grunting sounds as if he was trying to breathe, Bleak said, but she never heard him cry or make any other sounds.
The twins’ grandmother, a pediatric nurse, was asked by Sorensen to help with CPR on the twin. When the grandmother entered the room, she saw the twin on a bed and noticed he was deep purple and not breathing. She picked up a stethoscope and detected a weak heartbeat and determined the baby was alive.
Sorensen then put a liquid substance down the baby’s throat and Wilcox began looking for an oxygen bottle. Wilcox found one bottle, Bleak said in his probable cause statement, but it was broken and had to scramble around to find another. Sorensen did not have any device to force respirations with oxygen or any suction equipment to assist in clearing the baby’s respiratory system to make it easier for him to breathe.
Sorensen had a DaLee suction device that is basically a straw that you suck through to accomplish suction. However, Bleak said, the grandmother stated that the device was too large to accomplish suction on a newborn.
At this time, 911 was called.
The grandmother said she was shocked by Sorensen’s lack of equipment and preparation and said she believed that, with proper equipment, she could have kept the baby boy alive.
Within 10 minutes of the 911 call, an ambulance arrived at the birth center, and a medic found Sorensen performing CPR on the baby, using a technique that was “12 years out of date” and observed Sorensen was using a straw by sucking through it in an attempt to provide suction.
When Senior Paramedic Mary Ann Rhodes began asking for the baby’s medical history in order to perform the proper lifesaving measures, Rhodes said Sorensen claimed she did not know when the baby was born, his gestational age, or how long CPR had been underway. According to the probable cause statement, Sorensen said she was not present during the boy’s birth and claimed “she did not know any of the medical history of the mother or of the baby because they had just walked in off the street for help with the delivery.”
As the medics took the baby and pulled away from the birth center, the ambulance suddenly hit the brakes. The twins’ father and grandfather opened the rear doors and shoved the mother into the ambulance. She was bleeding heavily and still presenting an umbilical cord. Because of the mother’s emergency situation, they brought her into the ambulance and started treatment on her.
Up to this point, Sorensen had not told the medics a second baby was on the way.
Once the mother was in the ambulance and being treated, Bleak said in his statement, Sorensen “came out yelling, requesting the mother come back into the wellness center to deliver the second baby.”
The first twin was pronounced dead at Valley View Medical Center.
The second twin was delivered by cesarean section at Valley View Medical Center and then an emergency ambulance transported the mother and second twin to Dixie Regional Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in St. George.
According to the probable cause statement, doctors at Valley View and Dixie Regional said both twins were in critical need of neonatal intensive care, but both had “a 100 percent chance of survival” being born in a hospital. The doctors said they believe Sorensen was reckless and negligent in her actions by attempting the delivery.
Sorensen was not a licensed midwife, Bleak said in the probable cause statement; however, even if she had been licensed, under Utah law, a licensed, direct-entry midwife must limit her practice to normal pregnancy that is low risk at the start of the labor and remains low risk throughout the course of the labor and delivery.
Her fictitious business name, Vickie Sorensen’s Nature Works, was registered with the state’s Division of Corporations until Feb. 26, 2013, when the dba (doing business as) registration expired for nonrenewal. That registration identified her business under the North American Industry Classification System as Title 4242 – Drugs, Druggists Sundries Wholesale.
Sorensen was booked into the Iron County Jail Tuesday. According to booking information, Sorensen’s bail stands at $50,000.
Sorensen made her initial court appearance on Tuesday. She has retained Attorney Douglas Terry to represent her. A preliminary hearing is set for June 11 which will allow the judge to determine whether the prosecution’s case is strong enough to warrant a trial.
Though attempts to reach Sorensen for comment have been unsuccessful, it is clear that she has her supporters.
Kathryn Jones-Porter created a Support Vickie Sorensen online fundraiser Tuesday with a goal of raising $80,000 to help with Sorensen’s legal fees. In less than 48 hours the site has raised over $3,500.
“Vickie has been a competent, compassionate midwife for over 30 years,” Jones-Porter said on the GoFundMe site. “She has seen over 1,000 babies enter safely into this world, and has served women and babies with her whole heart and soul. She is now being accused of a truly horrendous crime that her gentle hands could never commit. Please show your love and support to Vickie by contributing to her legal fees and by posting words of encouragement for her to hear.”
After making a $500 donation to Sorensen’s cause, supporter Mindy Taylor said:
I have known Vickie for the last 3-4 years and have worked in a shared space with her and have been around her on almost a daily basis. I have observed her love and compassion for the people she serves and helps on a daily basis. Her midwifery and health skills are a cut above most general practitioners and obstetricians. I have had occasion to talk with her on occasion about certain procedures or practices that are taught and “grandfathered in” in the typical hospital and some home births. As I recall she had been abroad for training in other countries where midwifery is more common than hospital births and their mortality rates are so much lower than our american hospitals. The bottom line is that Vickie is an asset to the alternative health community and to the midwifery community. If we don’t stand up and support her it will set precedence for future threats to peoples choice to choose a birth outside of the hospital.
A Support Vickie Sorensen Facebook page was also set up about “spreading only positives, good vibes and love” and to collect “Operation Midwife Crisis” donations.
“Vickie Sorensen a prominent midwife with over 30 years experience is in need of our support,” the Facebook page reads. “Please help spread the love for a woman who has done so much for the community. Share your birth stories, natural health stories and words of support.”
One of Sorensen’s supporters, Margy W. Jackson, said on the site:
I am so grateful that I had my baby with Vickie Sorensen, Camille Sorensen Wilcox, and Natalie Bushnell at The Pathway to Wellness The Pathway To Wellness Healing Center and Birth Suite! Vickie Sorensen is amazing and kind, and one of the greatest women and caretakers that I have the opportunity to know, respect, seek advice from, and love. I have learned so much from her, and hope to be able to continue to do so.
Another supporter, Ashley Hampton Gleason, wrote:
I have felt the love and compassion from Vickie for taking care of moms and babies and giving families their ideal birth all along. Vickie and her team have gone above and beyond my expectations to take care of me and my baby. We were introduced to our wonderful baby boy through a beautiful and peaceful water birth at the Birth Suite with Vickie and her team. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. We continue to visit and ask plenty of questions (me being a first time mom, there are plenty) and they continue to help us as much as possible. I feel bonded to Vickie and her team for life. I will always remember such wonderful experiences with them and hope for many more in the future.
In addition to the online support groups, Mason Cottam will be doing an Acoustic Show at TOADZ in Cedar City Thursday at 8 p.m. with all tips and donations collected going towards the “Operation Midwife Crisis Fund.” They will also be selling T-shirts for $20 to help raise money for Sorensen.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
Ed. note: Sorensen’s first name appears as cited variously spelled both Vicki and Vickie; variations are reflected in the attributions included in this report.
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