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Anti-abortion doctor wrote Morrisey about midwife

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Charleston gynecologist and anti-abortion advocate went to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey about a local nurse midwife after a patient she was helping deliver needed an emergency cesarean section at CAMC earlier this summer.

The state should consider criminal charges against Angelita Nixon, a Putnam County-based nurse midwife, and her license should be revoked, Dr. Byron Calhoun wrote in a letter to Morrisey.

The Gazette obtained the letter, dated June 27, through an open records request with Morrisey's office. The midwife's name was redacted in the letter, but Nixon and her patient confirmed Nixon's identity.

The West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses, not the attorney general's office, typically handles complaints about nurses.

A complaint against Nixon from Calhoun, dated July 11, is also before the nursing board, Laura Skidmore Rhodes, executive director of the board, confirmed. It was unclear whether Calhoun sent the nursing board a separate complaint or if Morrisey's office sent the original letter on to the nursing board.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights group WV Free, said the fact that Calhoun wrote to Morrisey about the nurse is concerning. 

"We're deeply disturbed by a pattern that Calhoun is laying here," Chapman Pomponio said. "First, I think it's really concerning that his political motives are so clear. As a doctor, he knows that any complaint about a nurse should go to the nursing board. The fact he sent it to Morrisey, who is spearheading an attack on women's health providers makes clear his motives."

Nixon's attorney, Frank Hartman, said he is "looking into" Calhoun's letter to Morrisey "and considering future action."

Emails to Calhoun seeking comment were not returned at press time. A call to CAMC spokesman Dale Witte was not returned.

Calhoun, vice chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at West Virginia University-Charleston, is also the national medical advisor for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an anti-abortion group. Calhoun gave an expert statement in the malpractice lawsuit of Itai Gravely vs. Dr. Rodney Stephens, which alleges the doctor botched Gravely's abortion and left part of a fetus in her uterus. The lawsuit is the basis of a call for more regulations in the state's two abortion clinics. Morrisey is in the midst of a review of the state's regulations and recently accepted public comments on the matter.

In the complaint about Nixon, Calhoun wrote, among other things, that the midwife was not able to care for the patient, Sarah Brown, at Brown's home and had no backup physician for in the case of an emergency.

"Ms. [redacted] placed this patient and her infant in significant risk for harm, including maternal and neonatal death," Calhoun wrote in part. "This is not the first time this particular midwife has actually brought patients to Women and Children's Hospital for care with no collaborative agreement for backup for patients or attempted inappropriate home deliveries in high risk patients."

Nixon's patient, Sarah Brown, and Brown's husband, Kevin Baker, say the letter was unfair and an attack on their choice to have a home birth.

"The ability to choose home birth is part of reproductive choice and what I chose," Brown said. "Dr. Calhoun doesn't want women to have a choice and (is) going to do what [he] wants to see they don't have that choice. I think that's unfortunate."

Brown said she had an agreement with a CAMC doctor who had seen Brown regularly until she was 26 weeks pregnant and she began instead seeing Nixon instead. The doctor had agreed to be Brown's backup in the event of an emergency during her labor and delivery at home.

Instead, the day Brown delivered, the doctor, whose name Brown did not disclose, refused to talk to the couple on the phone or treat Brown at the hospital.

The day the baby was born, Brown had been in labor for more than 12 hours with little progress when they decided to go to the hospital.

Once the couple, along with Nixon, got to the hospital, "They treated us like we were crazy basically," Kevin Baker said.

Baker said the medical staff accused the couple of putting the baby at risk by having the child at home.

"I was born at home and a lot of our friends had babies at home," Kevin Baker said. "We're educated people who did research... we made an educated decision. We're not just sort of walking into this blind, but that's not the way were treated obviously."

The couple's son, Wesley, was born healthy by cesarean section.

The couple, both Charleston attorneys, had little interaction with Dr. Calhoun, though he was present in the operating room during the surgery, they said.

Nixon came to the hospital with the couple and offered Brown's medical records to the hospital staff, which refused to accept them except for her ultrasound records, Brown said.

In part of the letter, Calhoun criticizes Nixon for not giving Brown antibiotics for a positive group B streptococcus test. Group B strep is a bacterium that can be passed on from mother to child during delivery and can cause stillbirth or infections in infants.

Brown said the antibiotics were made available to her but she declined to take them after doing research.

His complaint that the couple had no backup physician in the case of an emergency was wrong, too, Brown and Baker said. The doctor had agreed but backed out when called upon that day, they said.

Nixon is a past board member for WV Free, Chapman Pomponio said, though she doesn't think attacking Nixon's abortion rights stance was Calhoun's motive for the letter. Calhoun may not have known that Nixon was a board member, she said.

"I don't know Dr. Calhoun, but it seems a pattern has developed here," she said. "[Calhoun has] a very rigid perspective about what women's health care should and shouldn't be. If another health care provider's approach is outside what his rigid idea of medicine is, he attacks it.

"He has a holier-than-thou approach to medicine and that is an insult to the patient receiving care and the patient's health care provider," she said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.

 


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