Everly Victoria McCarthy was born three months premature at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and weighed just over two pounds. Shortly after her birth on July 25, 2020, she developed a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
However, her parents, Alana Ross and Daniel McCarthy, hoped they could bring her back home. They held her, read Little Red Riding Hood to her and told her they loved her.
But on August 6, when Everly was less than 2 weeks old, doctors told the couple that she would not survive. The baby was removed from the ventilator and Miss Ross held her and watched the flat line of the heart monitor.
The nurses carefully cleansed Everly’s body and dressed her in a white satin dress. Her parents then embarked on the daunting task of planning a memorial service for their first child.
But when the funeral home tried to collect Everly’s body four days later, hospital officials said they couldn’t find her remains, according to a police report.
Boston police determined that the child’s body “probably was mistaken for dirty laundry” and discarded, officers said in a report.
When the funeral home called the couple and told them that their child’s body was missing, a new wave of grief swept over them.
“Like she died all over again,” said Miss Ross.
On Thursday, Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy sued the hospital in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. They are not looking for a specific amount of money, said Greg Henning, one of the couple’s lawyers. According to the couple, the goal was to prevent the hospital from losing the body of someone else’s child.
“We don’t want anyone else to go through this,” said Ms Ross, 37. “We want the hospital to be held accountable. We want them to fix it.”
In a statement Thursday, Dr. Sunil Ippen, Chief Medical Officer of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, expressed “our deepest condolences and most sincere apologies to the Ross and McCarthy family for their loss and the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding it.”
“As in any other case, when there is a concern related to our standards of treatment or practice,” he said, “we readily and frankly shared details with the patient’s family. We always evaluate both systemic and human factors that contribute to errors or potential issues raised by patients, family members or staff and take action. Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to comment specifically on this case.”
The hospital’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Losing a body in a hospital, especially a child, seems unimaginable, but it happens quite often. In 2017 woman sued after hospital in Minnesota threw away her stillborn baby, whose remains were found two weeks later in a laundry bag filled with dirty laundry. In 2009 the police searched garbage dumps in Pennsylvania and New Jersey after the family of a child who died 20 minutes after his birth said the hospital had accidentally dumped the body.
“We don’t know how often this happens,” Mr. Henning said. “Often, institutions that lose an infant or body realize what an extremely horrendous behavior that is.”
He added: “And they have a desire to resolve this issue before it becomes public.”
In the Boston case, relatives of Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy called the police a day after the couple were told that Everly’s remains were missing.
The detectives interviewed the hospital pathologist, who initially told them that only pathologists were allowed into the examination room at the hospital mortuary and that dirty linen had not been removed the day after Everly’s body was brought there.
But the pathologist later admitted he saw the laundry on a stainless steel tray and threw it into a bag meant for contaminated materials, according to a police report.
The police learned that the linen is taken to the dry cleaner with an exit sealer. The waste management company then sends any hospital waste to landfills in South Carolina and New Hampshire or to be incinerated at another facility.
Officers and staff searched the waste center in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood twice, searching hospital gowns, blood-soaked clothing and rags, and dirty linen and towels for hours. No bodies were found, according to police.
Police determined that Everly’s body was not placed in the “proper place where deceased children” should be placed in the morgue’s cold store, the report said. Her remains were most likely sent to one of the landfills or burned, the lawsuit says.
Police also noted that one of the nurses who took Everly’s body to the morgue did not return calls from the hospital, which was conducting its own investigation. The hospital also did not provide investigators with a “full video” showing what happened between the time the child’s body was taken to the morgue and the time hospital staff realized her remains were missing.
Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy, who planned to bury Everly at the family plot, said they still did not believe their daughter’s body was missing.
“To come to terms with the fact that she will die soon is one thing,” McCarthy, 38, said. “I never thought that I would have to put up with the fact that I would have to go to bed every night not knowing where she was.”
Ms. Ross, a non-clinical writer, and Mr. McCarthy, general manager of a frozen pie company, met when they were in fifth grade. They grew up in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where they played freeze and basketball during recess.
They remained friends for many years but didn’t fall in love until they were in their 20s as they grew closer due to recent breakups.
“We knew what we didn’t want,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We saw a lot of what we wanted in each other.”
They moved in in 2008. Ten years later, they decided to start a family.
The first two pregnancies ended in miscarriages, but they were optimistic when Miss Ross got pregnant by Everly, who kicked vigorously.
But in her second trimester, Ms Ross learned that her cervix was shortening, meaning she was at risk of preterm labor. She was put on partial bed rest, but on July 23, 2020, she felt her water broke and the couple rushed to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. institution with 180 years of history which bills itself as “the most trusted name in women’s health.”
All Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy have left of Everly are photographs, a few mementos, and a memory box that the hospital nurses have put together, which includes the water that Everly’s Catholic grandmothers used to baptize her in her last moments of life.
The couple went to therapy. They are determined to have another child.
“We are still trying to move forward and eventually start a family,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Right now we’re fighting this and telling Everly’s story because she’s not here to tell it.”