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MOAB — A lay midwife accused of attempting to help a woman with a high-risk pregnancy deliver her baby at her house, resulting in the newborn dying and the mother nearly bleeding to death, was charged Tuesday with negligent homicide.
Valerie ElHalta, 71, was charged in Grand County's 7th District Court with unlawful conduct, a third-degree felony; and negligent homicide and reckless endangerment, both class A misdemeanors.
In August 2012, ElHalta, of Eagle Mountain, attempted to assist a 31-year-old woman in delivering a baby at her Moab home.
The pregnant woman had previously had three cesarean section deliveries, making an attempted birth at home high-risk, according to charging documents.
In addition, prosecutors say ElHalta administered prescription drugs to the mother during the birth, even though she was unlicensed at the time and her midwife certification was revoked years earlier by the North American Registry of Midwives Board.
"When the mother arrived, she was pale, confused, not alert or oriented and had unintelligible speech."
"The attempt by (ElHalta), who lacked proper training, qualification or licensure, to perform a high-risk delivery at home, unlawfully administer prescription drugs to the mother, use a vacuum to deliver the mother's newborn, apply sutures to the mother and send the mother to the hospital without accompanying her or sending medical records so that emergency medical providers would have accurate information about the prior course of treatment of the mother, recklessly created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to the mother," charging documents state.
When contacted at her home Wednesday by KSL News, ElHalta said she was unaware of the charges.
"I'm totally in shock," she said. "I didn't hurt the baby. I just delivered it."
ElHalta arrived at the Moab residence on Aug. 17, 2012, to help with the birth. Prosecutors believe she gave the mother Cytotec, which she was not licensed to administer and a drug that has risks with pregnant women.
By the evening of Aug. 18, the pregnant woman and her husband noticed that ElHalta's mood had changed and she seemed to be more anxious, according to court documents. ElHalta performed a vaginal exam that caused the mother "substantial pain" and told her that she was "breaking scar tissue" and "just moving things along," the charges state.
After nearly an hour of pushing, ElHalta could no longer detect any fetal heart tones.
"The defendant panicked and grabbed a medical device referred to as a 'vacuum,'" which ElHalta was not licensed to use, according to charging documents. She said on Wednesday, however, she was trained to use the vacuum by the person who invented it.
A midwife whose Certified Professional Midwife license is revoked is prohibited from serving as preceptor for NARM certification applicants.
When she pulled the infant out, the newborn was blue and not breathing. ElHalta called 911 and told the parents to "pray to whatever God they believed in," court records state.
The newborn was taken first to Moab Regional Hospital and then flown to Primary Children's Medical Center. The infant died Aug. 25 from lack of oxygen to the brain.
"The high-risk delivery should not have been attempted at home," the charges state.
After the infant was taken to Moab Regional, the mother complained of feeling very hot. She soon began bleeding very heavily, according to court records. ElHalta again administered prescription medication and attempted to suture the mother, though she was not certified to do either, according to prosecutors.
When the mother was taken to the hospital, ElHalta did not accompany her, and doctors did not know what drugs she had been given and had no information on the recent delivery, according to the charges.
"When the mother arrived, she was pale, confused, not alert or oriented and had unintelligible speech," charges state. "Medical professionals observed profound trauma to the mother's vaginal area, resulting from the defendant's use of the vacuum, that caused such severe bleeding that the mother would have died had there been additional delay transporting her to the hospital."
ElHalta has published several articles about being a midwife. She claims to have delivered more than 3,000 babies all around the world in 40 years of work, the most recent being Monday.
"I'm not a monster. I'm just a grandmother," she said Wednesday outside her Eagle Mountain home.
ElHalta claims to have a good relationship with the mother and her family. She said she did not consider the birth to be high-risk. ElHalta adamantly denied Wednesday doing anything wrong.
She admitted her midwife certification was revoked following a 2003 wrongful death suit in Michigan that was settled out of court. ElHalta declined to go into detail about what happened in that case.
According to the North American Registry of Midwives Board, a person who has their certification rejected "may no longer refer to themselves as a NARM CPM, Certified Professional Midwife, or CPM, and are advised to honestly and responsibly inform current and prospective clients that their CPM credential has been revoked. A midwife whose CPM is revoked is prohibited from serving as preceptor for NARM certification applicants."
Former state Rep. Holly Richardson, a midwife of 14 years, played a key role in getting the Utah Legislature to pass a law in 2005 that set up guidelines for certifying lay midwives. With certification, midwives in Utah may administer a limited number of prescription drugs and perform certain prenatal care duties.
Midwives can still be unlicensed in Utah and legally assist with a delivery, Richardson said. But those births are typically very natural. In the case of the Moab mother, Richardson said, ElHalta should never have attempted to deliver the baby outside a hospital.
"She absolutely acted out of that scope. If these allegations are true, that she was using a vacuum extractor at home, there's no midwife anywhere in the country that would use a vacuum extractor. It's totally inappropriate," she said. "All the midwives I personally have ever worked with or know would have said, 'I cannot take you as a client. You are too high risk.'"
The court issued a summons for ElHalta to make an initial appearance in court on July 9.
Contributing: Sandra Yi