Even if you're not familiar with what it entails, you've probably come across the term "vegetative state," used to describe patients with severe brain damage that are no longer capable of true consciousness.
So you can imagine the shock of the family of an Arizona woman, who was been in a persistent vegetative state for at least ten years, when they found out that their loved one had recently given birth to a healthy baby boy.
The unidentified woman had been receiving round-the-clock care at Phoenix's Hacienda HealthCare Facility, but clearly the care was lacking as she was reportedly sexually assaulted and became pregnant as a result.
The patient went into labor on December 29, much to the horror of the nurses who had been tasked with caring for her. According to an unidentified source, the staff did not know the woman was pregnant until she went into labor.
"None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth," the source said. "From what I've been told she was moaning. And they didn't know what was wrong with her."
The entire situation has made global headlines as the public now questions the ethics and conditions of the nonprofit private nursing facility, which regards itself as a leading health care provider for developmentally disabled people and those with chronic conditions.
Dr. Greg Marchand, a local OB-GYN spoke with KTVK and explained that it was a "miracle" that the woman's pregnancy and labor proceeded without complications.
"This was an extremely dangerous situation with no monitoring," Marchand said. "It could have been an active labor for hours or even days. This easily could have resulted in a fetal death."There's no doubt she was able to feel pain, but how much consciousness there was to really take the suffering from that is what I don't know," he added.
The Phoenix police department and the Arizona Department of Health Services are currently investigation the sexual assault case. For the time being, Hacienda HealthCare has put a new policy in place, banning male staff members from entering a female patient's room unaccompanied.
There's fear that there may be more victims of sexual assault at the facility because according to a spokesperson for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, "many sexual assault perpetrators are actually looking for situations where people are in isolated or vulnerable positions."
Hacienda spokesperson David Leibowitz called the incident "deeply disturbing," adding that while they can't publicly discuss the details of the case, "they will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement and all the relevant regulatory agencies regarding this matter."
The state Department of Economic Security has since performed health and safety checks on all of the residents at the facility. They have not divulged any of their findings to the public, but they too are working with police to assist in the investigation.