Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Did Someone Try to Murder Ximena?

Baby left to die at Vancouver General Hospital

As police probe an abortion survivor's case, a former Supreme Court justice names names, while nurses run for cover
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (1985)

BC Report Newsmagazine, August 30, 1999
Reproduced with permission


Terry O'Neill

. . . an unwanted premature baby, born unexpectedly after a botched abortion, was abandoned by medical staff at Vancouver General Hospital and left to die in a room used to store dead fetuses. Although shivering, whimpering and gasping for air, the baby was forced to fend for herself for 40 minutes until a nurse finally came to her aid.

More than 13 years have passed since an unwanted premature baby, born unexpectedly after a botched abortion, was abandoned by medical staff at Vancouver General Hospital and left to die in a room used to store dead fetuses. Although shivering, whimpering and gasping for air, the baby was forced to fend for herself for 40 minutes until a nurse finally came to her aid. But it was too late to save the child from serious injury. The girl, who came to be known as Ximena Renaerts, suffered permanent brain damage and is now a quadriplegic with the mental capacity of a three year old.

Today, Ximena lives comfortably with her adoptive family in Chilliwack, but the repercussions surrounding her birth and the record-setting damage settlement she recently received from VGH are continuing to send shockwaves through the medical community. In fact, the controversy may now grow even larger. BC Report has learned that the Vancouver Police Department has launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Ximena's treatment at VGH. Nevertheless, when contacted August 11, police spokesman Sergeant Bob Cooper called the case a "bull----" one, similar to cases involving children who die while being delivered by midwives. However, he later confirmed, "We are taking a preliminary look into it."

It is the department's second go around on the file. In response to a June 1998 request from B.C. Liberal MLA Geoff Plant, Vancouver police conducted a cursory investigation of the case, but abandoned the review after only a few weeks.

BC Report has also discovered that the Renaerts' lawyer, former B.C. Supreme Court justice Thomas Berger, has named two VGH medical practitioners in connection with possible criminal wrongdoing in the case. In a recently unsealed document filed with the court last year, Mr. Berger declared, "There is evidence of serious crimes" committed by Dr. Kamil Jaroudi, who now practises in Saudi Arabia, and nurse Vera Wood, who is retired.

As well, BC Report has learned that the Registered Nurses Association of B.C. conducted a professional conduct review" into the actions of two nurses involved in Ximena's birth. However, the association has thrown a blanket of secrecy over the matter. Nevertheless, Claire Kermacks, the RNABC's director of regulatory services, maintains the public interest has been protected because at least one of the unnamed people overseeing the review's work "is a member of the public."

None of this is good enough for Chilliwack MLA Barry Penner, the B.C. Liberals' deputy critic of the Ministry of the Attorney General. "Clearly this matter needs to have an impartial and thorough investigation," he says. "On the face of it, one can imagine that crimes such as child abandonment or criminal negligence might have occurred." Adds Charles Lugosi, who was the Renaerts' first lawyer, "The facts of the Ximena case cry out for intervention by the attorney general. And his silence is deafening."

The case made national headlines following the July 30 disclosure that VGH had agreed to pay $8.7 million to settle a civil suit launched by Ximena's adoptive family. The award was said to be the largest of its kind in B.C. history. The money will be used to provide Ximena with a specially built house and round-the-clock care for the rest of her life. The case was actually settled on the eve of a trial a year ago, but details were withheld until this summer.

The facts surrounding Ximena's birth suggest serious wrongdoing. Ximena's natural mother, Nadine Bourne, arrived at VGH on the evening of December 16, 1985. She said she had received an abortion at a Bellingham, Washington, clinic four days earlier and was suffering complications. Records show that Dr. Jaroudi, a resident at VGH, examined Ms. Bourne, then 22, but failed to discover the existence of the baby she was carrying. At 3:20 a.m. December 17 Ms. Bourne gave birth to Ximena while seated at a commode. Although Ms. Bourne had told hospital officials she was just 14 to 16 weeks pregnant, Ximena's size--about three pounds--indicated she was much further along.

Court records show that Ms. Wood did not call a "code blue" (the resuscitation team) or the "infant transport team" (to send the baby to Children's Hospital) upon Ximena's birth, although she was struggling for life and was clearly large enough to be viable. Instead, "She took the baby into the service room where dead fetuses are stored, and left it there [in a bedpan] for 40 minutes," according to a July 1998 document prepared by lawyer Berger and filed with the court two months later: "We could prove that Vera Wood and other nurses did nothing to suction the baby or to provide warmth or oxygen for the child. Our case was that the baby suffered severe [trauma] as a result of these acts or omissions by VGH and its employees, resulting in brain damage in the form of mental retardation and cerebral palsy."

After 40 minutes, nurse Wood called the night nursing supervisor, Joyce Hatherall, who cleared the baby's air passages, provided warmth and called for oxygen.

Mr. Berger states further, "We also had evidence that Dr. Jaroudi, called up to the ward, realized the baby had been delivered by Nadine Bourne, and realized it was viable, but nevertheless told the nurses not to resuscitate the baby ('...let it go'). He was ignored by Joyce Hatherall."

(Contacted by telephone at her Point Grey home two weeks ago, Mrs. Hatherall refused to comment on her role in saving Ximena. When it was pointed out that some consider her a hero, she said, "Don't give me that. It is very upsetting. I do not want to talk about it.")

Evidence also showed that, even after nurse Hatherall's intervention, Ximena was put at further risk. She was placed for a time on a metal counter, which likely resulted in continuing heat loss and hypothermia. And, in finally calling for the infant transport team, Dr. Jaroudi neglected to tell Children's Hospital the location from which he was calling. "As a result, another half-hour was lost," Mr. Berger declared.

The lawyer also pointed out that, because VGH said it had conducted no internal review of the case, the lawsuit and the pre-trial examinations for discovery became the de facto investigation. And that investigation led Mr. Berger to conclude, "It is apparent that there is evidence of serious crimes by Vera Wood and Dr. Jaroudi. This may still be a matter to be considered by the Criminal Justice Branch of the Attorney General's Ministry."

In fact, Mr. Berger says his office contacted Vancouver police in December 1998. "We sent them the transcripts, the medical charts, the complete record of everything in our files, and on behalf of the family, we asked them to investigate the evidence of serious crimes," he told BC Report. Police investigators later visited his office twice to obtain more information.

Ximena's adoptive mother, Margaret, adds that Vancouver police visited their Chilliwack home sometime in May. Sgt. Cooper would provide no details of the investigation. "We are just in the preliminary stages," he says. "It's not something that's going to be wrapped up tomorrow."

Langley pro-life activist John Hof is pleased police are finally looking into the matter after washing their hands of it last year. Nevertheless, he is upset with Sgt. Cooper's initial characterization of the case as "bull---," and says he hopes Vancouver police do not end up conducting the same sort of half-hearted investigation that Calgary police did in connection with recent allegations of baby deaths at Foothills Hospital ("The investigation that wasn't," Aug. 9). "Justice has been served insofar as Ximena's welfare is concerned," he says. "No justice has been served as far as those who perpetrated this crime."

Section 218 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for anyone to abandon or expose a child under 10 "so that its life is or is likely to be endangered or its health is or is likely to be permanently injured." Section 219 states someone is criminally negligent if "in omitting to do anything that is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for lives or safety or other persons."

A more serious charge would be one of attempted murder. Section 223, which deals with homicide, states that a child becomes human when "it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother."

Significantly, the RNABC reminds its members in a review of relevant legislation that the code "strictly prohibits the deliberate killing of any person. Therefore, in no event should a registered nurse deliberately terminate the life of a patient."

Contacted by phone at her Vancouver apartment two weeks ago, retired nurse Wood said she was not aware Mr. Berger had named her. When asked for her reaction, she said, "I can't talk any more" and referred questions to VGH. Hospital president and CEO Murray Martin said earlier he "did not wish to engage in further debate on this case."

BC Report found a listing for Dr. Jaroudi on the website of King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he heads the reproductive medicine section in the department of obstetrics and gynecology. As of press time, Dr. Jaroudi had not responded to an e-mail requesting his comments on Mr. Berger's statements and the police investigation.

Mr. Hof points out that Dr. Jaroudi's superior at the time of Ximena's birth, Dr. Gerald Korn, wrote Dr. Jaroudi five years ago offering to keep his address secret. Dr. Korn's May 9, 1994, letter alerted Dr. Jaroudi to the Renaerts' lawsuit and said, "Unfortunately, your name is included, but I very much doubt if you will hear any more about it. Certainly, I will not give anybody any indication that I know of whereabouts." Ultimately, lawyers travelled to Spain to obtain pre-trial testimony from Dr. Jaroudi.

After being alerted to the Renaerts case by BC Report, the B.C. Medical Association reviewed the matter last summer. The BCMA's Dr. Morris VanAndel found that Dr. Jaroudi was no longer under its jurisdiction and that other doctors originally named in the lawsuit, including Dr. Korn, were only marginally involved in the matter and that no action was necessary.

The RNABC launched its review at the same time, but it did not discuss the case until this month. Spokesman Kermacks says the review did not involve nurse Wood, because she is now retired; however, it did involve two other nurses. She explains that such reviews can proceed under a formal "investigation and inquiry" process but that most are resolved by way of a "consensual complaint resolution." This process involves "non-adversarial meetings" between the nurse and the RNABC. "The agreement must be approved by the chair of the Professional Conduct Committee and two advisers (one of whom is a member of the public) to ensure that the agreement is in the public interest and the public is protected," RNABC rules declare.

But when asked for details on the Renaerts case, spokesman Kermacks refuses to name the two nurses, to say what matters the "consensual" review considered, to reveal the review's findings, to name the people that conducted the review, or even to name the member of the public involved in the process. "All I can say is that we investigated and we came to an agreement with the nurses, but I'm not at liberty to say what that was," she says. She did say, however, that the two nurses are still working.

After having originally agreed to name officials and the public adviser, she ultimately refused to do so. "I don't want them harassed," she said August 17. Asked how the public could be assured its interests were being considered, she said only that they were. A search of the RNABC's website reveals the existence of eight public representatives on the association's board of directors. They are: Douglas R. Moffatt, Melodie Corrigall, Marvin Rasmussen, Ted Wright, Ted Hannah, Barbara Isaac, Pat Wilson and Raymond J. Welch. No addresses or phone numbers are listed.

Kelowna pro-life activist Ted Gerk, who has pressed both the BCMA and the RNABC for action in the Renaerts matter, is appalled by the stonewalling. "It is the most idiotic thing I have ever seen," Mr. Gerk charges. "There is no accountability. And until they make public what has gone on, I think the public has a justifiable right to have a perception that they've done nothing, that this has been a whitewash."

MLA Penner is similarly concerned. "In terms of the review done by the nurses association, I think that if that report deals with procedural mistakes or errors in judgment, then the results should be made public," he says. But whatever transpires, the MLA says one fact remains. "This whole matter is tragic, and it breaks my heart to know what's happened to this little girl...It's like a worst nightmare come true, and this little girl has to live with the consequences."

Indeed, Ximena's adoptive mother worries says her daughter has suffered terribly. "How can you ever bring justice when all the damage is done?" Mrs. Renaerts asks. "I guess my big hope that what happened to Ximena won't be in vain," she adds. "It could be you in the hospital and what if they feel that you're not worthy of life. We have to stop somewhere.