Midwife charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment; supporters rally

CEDAR CITY – The state of Utah through the Iron County Attorney’s office brought charges Monday against a Cedar City lay midwife on account of the death of a premature twin in her Cedar City birth center on Dec. 18, 2012.

Vicki Dawn Sorensen, 54, was charged with one second-degree felony for manslaughter and two class-A misdemeanors for reckless endangerment. The charges were brought by Information filed Monday with the Fifth District Court in Iron County, on the basis of Cedar City Police Detective Mike Bleak’s probable cause statement dated June 2, 2014, and Deputy Iron County Attorney G. Tyler Romeril’s review and screening of investigative materials in the matter.

Vicki Dawn Sorensen of Cedar City, Utah, booking photo posted June 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News
Vicki Dawn Sorensen of Cedar City, Utah, booking photo posted June 3, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

According to the charging documents, on Dec. 18, 2012, Sorensen did not transfer her client to a hospital when the woman, pregnant with twins, began labor two months before her due date. Instead, Sorenson had the woman deliver in her Cedar City birth center without proper equipment or up-to-date CPR skills.

The mother and father were first introduced to Sorensen when they had her help deliver their first child. When the mother discovered she was pregnant again in May 2012, she made the decision to go to Sorensen for prenatal care. Sorensen informed the mother that her due date was approximately Feb. 18, 2013.

When the mother discovered she was having twins, she questioned Sorensen concerning her ability to safely deliver the twins, Bleak said in the statement. Sorensen assured the mother that this was a routine situation for her, that she successfully delivered twins on a regular basis, and that there was no danger in delivering her twins.

The mother awoke the morning of Dec. 17, 2012, having slight contractions. According to the charging documents, Sorensen told the mother that it was a good thing and that the babies were moving into the perfect position for birth. Sorensen further told the mother that if she continued to follow her prescribed diet, the twins would not come early.

When the mother began experiencing regular contractions the next morning, Sorensen told her to lie down and go back to sleep and the contractions would stop. By early afternoon when the mother began experiencing strong contractions, Sorensen told her to come to the birthing center. The mother’s cervix was checked and she was told to go home and take a bath in Epsom salt.

When the mother went to the birth center two hours later, Joe Holcomb, a naturopathic doctor, tried to administer an IV of magnesium to help stop the labor.

“The mother stated that Dr. Holcomb was unaware of how to administer the substance and had to call the hospital to ask how, and to ask the amount to administer,” Bleak said in the probable cause statement. “Because of his inexperience, Dr. Holcomb only administered half of the prescribed dose through the IV; this did not stop the labor, so he then administered the second half. The contractions did not stop.”

Camille Wilcox, Sorensen’s daughter, called another Iron County lay midwife, Lily Ann Zerkle, and asked for help delivering the twins while the mother was in labor. But, Bleak said in his statement, Zerkle declined because she said she considered the birth to be high-risk. She urged Wilcox and Sorensen to take the mother to a hospital to ensure a safe delivery.

She and Sorensen wanted to take the mother to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Wilcox said, but the roads were too bad for safe travel. When urged to take the mother to the local Cedar City Valley View Medical Center, Wilcox said that Sorensen and herself “did not like” that hospital and so they were going to go through with the delivery in their birth center.

In a 2013 interview on the blog Woman of Service, when asked about transporting clients to the local Valley View Medical Center, Wilcox said: “They don’t love us. They really treat our clients really horrible at this hospital. If it’s not an eminent problem then we will transfer to St. George.”

Zerkle said she remained concerned so she called Valley View staff and warned them to be prepared for the premature babies when they came in.

The first twin was born in the birth center.

The mother remembers that the baby made some grunting sounds as if he was trying to breathe, Bleak said, but she never heard him cry or make any other sounds.

The twins’ grandmother, a pediatric nurse, was asked by Sorensen to help with CPR on the twin. When the grandmother entered the room, she saw the twin on a bed and noticed he was deep purple and not breathing. She picked up a stethoscope and detected a weak heartbeat and determined the baby was alive.

Sorensen then put a liquid substance down the baby’s throat and Wilcox began looking for an oxygen bottle. Wilcox found one bottle, Bleak said in his probable cause statement, but it was broken and had to scramble around to find another. Sorensen did not have any device to force respirations with oxygen or any suction equipment to assist in clearing the baby’s respiratory system to make it easier for him to breathe.

Sorensen had a DaLee suction device that is basically a straw that you suck through to accomplish suction. However, Bleak said, the grandmother stated that the device was too large to accomplish suction on a newborn.

At this time, 911 was called.

The grandmother said she was shocked by Sorensen’s lack of equipment and preparation and said she believed that, with proper equipment, she could have kept the baby boy alive.

Within 10 minutes of the 911 call, an ambulance arrived at the birth center, and a medic found Sorensen performing CPR on the baby, using a technique that was “12 years out of date” and observed Sorensen was using a straw by sucking through it in an attempt to provide suction.

When Senior Paramedic Mary Ann Rhodes began asking for the baby’s medical history in order to perform the proper lifesaving measures, Rhodes said Sorensen claimed she did not know when the baby was born, his gestational age, or how long CPR had been underway. According to the probable cause statement, Sorensen said she was not present during the boy’s birth and claimed “she did not know any of the medical history of the mother or of the baby because they had just walked in off the street for help with the delivery.”

As the medics took the baby and pulled away from the birth center, the ambulance suddenly hit the brakes. The twins’ father and grandfather opened the rear doors and shoved the mother into the ambulance. She was bleeding heavily and still presenting an umbilical cord. Because of the mother’s emergency situation, they brought her into the ambulance and started treatment on her.

Up to this point, Sorensen had not told the medics a second baby was on the way.

Once the mother was in the ambulance and being treated, Bleak said in his statement, Sorensen “came out yelling, requesting the mother come back into the wellness center to deliver the second baby.”

The first twin was pronounced dead at Valley View Medical Center.

The second twin was delivered by cesarean section at Valley View Medical Center and then an emergency ambulance transported the mother and second twin to Dixie Regional Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in St. George.

According to the probable cause statement, doctors at Valley View and Dixie Regional said both twins were in critical need of neonatal intensive care, but both had “a 100 percent chance of survival” being born in a hospital. The doctors said they believe Sorensen was reckless and negligent in her actions by attempting the delivery.

Sorensen was not a licensed midwife, Bleak said in the probable cause statement; however, even if she had been licensed, under Utah law, a licensed, direct-entry midwife must limit her practice to normal pregnancy that is low risk at the start of the labor and remains low risk throughout the course of the labor and delivery.

Her fictitious business name, Vickie Sorensen’s Nature Works, was registered with the state’s Division of Corporations until Feb. 26, 2013, when the dba (doing business as) registration expired for nonrenewal. That registration identified her business under the North American Industry Classification System as Title 4242 – Drugs, Druggists Sundries Wholesale.

Sorensen was booked into the Iron County Jail Tuesday. According to booking information, Sorensen’s bail stands at $50,000.

Sorensen made her initial court appearance on Tuesday. She has retained Attorney Douglas Terry to represent her. A preliminary hearing is set for June 11 which will allow the judge to determine whether the prosecution’s case is strong enough to warrant a trial.

Sorensen Supporters

Though attempts to reach Sorensen for comment have been unsuccessful, it is clear that she has her supporters.

Kathryn Jones-Porter created a Support Vickie Sorensen online fundraiser Tuesday with a goal of raising $80,000 to help with Sorensen’s legal fees. In less than 48 hours the site has raised over $3,500.

“Vickie has been a competent, compassionate midwife for over 30 years,” Jones-Porter said on the GoFundMe site. “She has seen over 1,000 babies enter safely into this world, and has served women and babies with her whole heart and soul. She is now being accused of a truly horrendous crime that her gentle hands could never commit. Please show your love and support to Vickie by contributing to her legal fees and by posting words of encouragement for her to hear.”

After making a $500 donation to Sorensen’s cause, supporter Mindy Taylor said:

I have known Vickie for the last 3-4 years and have worked in a shared space with her and have been around her on almost a daily basis. I have observed her love and compassion for the people she serves and helps on a daily basis. Her midwifery and health skills are a cut above most general practitioners and obstetricians. I have had occasion to talk with her on occasion about certain procedures or practices that are taught and “grandfathered in” in the typical hospital and some home births. As I recall she had been abroad for training in other countries where midwifery is more common than hospital births and their mortality rates are so much lower than our american hospitals. The bottom line is that Vickie is an asset to the alternative health community and to the midwifery community. If we don’t stand up and support her it will set precedence for future threats to peoples choice to choose a birth outside of the hospital.

A Support Vickie Sorensen Facebook page was also set up about “spreading only positives, good vibes and love” and to collect “Operation Midwife Crisis” donations.

“Vickie Sorensen a prominent midwife with over 30 years experience is in need of our support,” the Facebook page reads. “Please help spread the love for a woman who has done so much for the community. Share your birth stories, natural health stories and words of support.”

One of Sorensen’s supporters, Margy W. Jackson, said on the site:

I am so grateful that I had my baby with Vickie Sorensen, Camille Sorensen Wilcox, and Natalie Bushnell at The Pathway to Wellness The Pathway To Wellness Healing Center and Birth Suite! Vickie Sorensen is amazing and kind, and one of the greatest women and caretakers that I have the opportunity to know, respect, seek advice from, and love. I have learned so much from her, and hope to be able to continue to do so.

Another supporter, Ashley Hampton Gleason, wrote:

I have felt the love and compassion from Vickie for taking care of moms and babies and giving families their ideal birth all along. Vickie and her team have gone above and beyond my expectations to take care of me and my baby. We were introduced to our wonderful baby boy through a beautiful and peaceful water birth at the Birth Suite with Vickie and her team. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. We continue to visit and ask plenty of questions (me being a first time mom, there are plenty) and they continue to help us as much as possible. I feel bonded to Vickie and her team for life. I will always remember such wonderful experiences with them and hope for many more in the future.

In addition to the online support groups, Mason Cottam will be doing an Acoustic Show at TOADZ in Cedar City Thursday at 8 p.m. with all tips and donations collected going towards the Operation Midwife Crisis Fund.” They will also be selling T-shirts for $20 to help raise money for Sorensen.

Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Ed. note: Sorensen’s first name appears as cited variously spelled both Vicki and Vickie; variations are reflected in the attributions included in this report.

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  • kirstenallen June 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    What an unnecessary, preventable atrocity. While over-medicalization of birth is indeed a problem, the solution is not pseudo-medicine. Why not? Because there is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven–or disproven–treatments and theories. Midwives with graduate degrees who practice at real hospitals are valued professionals who would never have let this type of tragedy occur. However, since any one can call themselves a midwife, my cat could hang out a shingle if he had enough woo on his “natural birth” website. And naturopaths are not doctors. They’re just not.

    • Bender June 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Hear, hear.

    • PB June 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      I agree. We have had 2 of our children with midwifes and they were in a hospital and had a dr. on-call in case of emergency, she is ignorant and now that family has to pay for her selfishness. If she was more professional the staff at hospital probably wouldnt treat her that way..just saying

  • But Seriously June 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    This whole story is just plain creepy.

  • safer midwifery utah June 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    I run a group called Safer Midwifery Utah to try and pass some laws about midwives in our state. You need a license and insurance to drive a car but not to deliver a baby, and these are the deadly results of that policy. Midwives are going to be fighting hard to keep things the way that they are now, and these babies need all the help they can get to make sure their deaths weren’t in vain. Please help!

  • zzzz June 5, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    If not murder, they should lock her up for being a total idiot…

  • Carvic June 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    You have an entire section on supporters of Ms. Sorensen. How about investigations to see if there may be others who do NOT like her? Others who have reportedly suffered at her hands?

    • safer midwifery utah June 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

      I’ve looked. I’ve asked for a statement from the utah midwives association, nothing so far. This happens every time a midwife is charged in a death, they get support from others who are midwives because they all fear legislation that would make it harder for them to choose their own practice standards.

  • PB June 5, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Vicki is a sham..had met her along time ago through family, would never let her deliver our children. She once used scissors or a knife to pop sack, dont remember which, freaky. Figured something like this might happen.

  • Terry Manlove CNM MS June 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Shes should serve time for dabbling in high risk obstetrics and creating a tragedy for this family. She has no business delivering babies and no respectablely trained Midwife would ever condone her ignorance and lack of training. She is not a professional Certified Nurse-Midwife but may qualify as a housekeeper in a poor hotel. She deserves to be punished for her errors in judgement that have hurt the public who mistakenly trusted he with their lives.

    Terry Manlove CNM MS
    Certified Nurse- Midwife

  • Rick June 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

    Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says.

    That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.

    My son is alive because of Vickie Sorensen. My uncle lost his wife in the delivery room due to hospital mistake. Dont be so quick to judge this lady without knowing all the facts. This article was very very one sided and wish the journalist would have investigated/reported more about lady who was giving birth. Was she really a client of Vickies, how do we know that all that was reported is accurate? Its about selling news papers and advertisements, with never know thought of who this may harm. Same goes for the County attorney, its about headlines and reelection or moving up in the ranks when the next election comes around. I am not saying Vickie is guilty or she is innocence, I have know idea and do not know all the facts, the prosecuting attorney does not have all the facts yet, they are still investigating and we may never know the whole story. All I know is this lady has delivered and helped maybe 1000 people deliver babies and was a very good midwife to us.

    Very easy to cast blame. Why dont you ever hear about the deaths that happen and get covered up in hospitals? Talk to any nurse or any other hospital worker and they will tell you the truth. Doctors make mistakes all the time. Thats why they call it a practice. To put this lady in jail is very wrong. Shame on Iron County. How many lives has she saved, or brought into this world. I am sure after all the dust is cleared and the facts come out she will be found innocent.

    As for not being licensed, give me a break. Like being late or past due on your license has anything to do with this situation. Like you have never been late on any of your bills, or licenses, or due dates.

    One thing is a fact is she loves what she does and she is not getting rich from it, like the doctors and executive staff at hospitals are and like the politicians and news agencies are for making a case or headlines for their own benefit have done and will continue to do.

    I am very very sorry for the child that lost his life and it is terrible. I wish them peace and hope they can gather the strength to get past the tragedy where ever the fault lies. My prayers are with them and with the Sorensen’s.

    • safer midwifery utah June 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      You don’t hear about hospital deaths mainly because intrapartum deaths (meaning deaths during labor) of newborns that are otherwise expected to live are extremely rare. They are so rare that it is hard to find a statistic for them. Judith rooks found an estimate of 0.1-0.3 per 1000 births in a hospital setting. For direct entry midwives (who are not nurses) the rate was 5.6 per 1000 births. The Midwives Association of North America (MANA) released their death rates this year and they were very similar to what Rooks found in oregon. Hearing about out of hospital deaths more often is a result of out of hospital deaths happening more often.

      The other reason you don’t hear about deaths caused by negligence in hospitals is that the hospitals and physicians carry insurance and can actually pay families for the damage that they have caused when they make a mistake. Right now midwives are trying to prevent people like myself from lobbying for mandatory licenses and insurance for midwives because they don’t want to deal with the cost or the restrictions on their practices. They are more interested in their wallets than preventing deaths.

      I know you had a good experience with a midwife in a home birth. A lot of people do. You have relatives that lost their lives in hospital. None of that erases the statistics, the real numbers about these deaths. I also want to assure you that if your baby had been the victim of a negligent midwife you would see the same support being poured out towards Vickie Sorensen. This is just what happens with these cases, I’ve seen so many of them that I just expect the fundraiser to start the day after the arrest.

    • Rebecca October 28, 2016 at 12:40 am

      Rick, I am family. The article is correct.

  • Colby June 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    My wife and I are expecting our first child. We like the idea of having a natural birth and chose to go with Pathway to Wellness. I was very impressed at the amount of time and attention Vickie and Camille gave to us as we prepared for our baby girl. I learned so much from them and really appreciate all of their help. I do not know what happened in this particular situation, however this article seems extremely biased and one-sided against Vickie. I would hope that people would take the chance to learn both sides of the story before being so quick to attack Vickie for what had happened. I really do think Vickie is very capable at what she does and cares deeply about the families she serves and babies she delivers.

  • Edan June 11, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    When I delivered my third child at home, my midwife entered with so much equipment (including oxygen tank) for the “just in case” situations. My delivery went smoothly and none of the equipment was needed, but it was there if it would have been. Not all midwives are incompetent. Just like doctors, you must choose wisely and feel confident in their knowledge and experience. In another article I read, the expecting couple felt uncomfortable with some of Sorensen’s decisions. When they no longer trusted her abilities to deliver their children, they should have made a decision to go to the hospital themselves. This is a sad situation all around, but I hope it does not hurt the respectability of genuinely competent midwives.

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  • Marie October 29, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Vickie Sorensen is a wonderful person who is always doing incredible, wonderful things for other people. I have seen her perform many miracles. Her endless service has blessed my life and the life of my family and so many others. I am so grateful to her. I will never be able to repay her for all she has done.
    My oldest son was born in a hospital with many difficulties, injustices and pain, caused by the HOSPITAL. I would NOT recommend a hospital birth. Vickie Sorensen delivered my twins two years later in my mother’s house. It was the most beautiful, peaceful, enjoyable and painless births I could have ever experienced. This to me is what birth should be like, not hooked up to endless monitors and then being yelled at every 5 minutes because the mother moved an inch (as happens in the hospital frequently). My twins and I are incredibly healthy, alive and happy because of the loving care of a wonderful midwife, Vickie.
    It saddens me to read this article. The article is filled with prejudice and hurtful lies against all midwives. How could they treat Vickie this way? She is innocent and pure. This article and situation is proof that our society has a problem. We have very wicked judges, doctors and lawyers who don’t care a thing about justice. All they care about is money and greed. This particular baby NEVER died in Vickie’s care. What they don’t want you to know, is that the baby really died, in the DOCTOR’S care. Vickie kept this baby alive, the doctor did NOT. No one was trying to kill a baby as this article suggests. Tragedies just happen. Many babies die in a hospital, and yet no one is suing the doctors. Midwives spend long nights and hours helping pregnant mothers and they get very little pay. They do so much more that a doctor would never do. Why would we ever want to attack the midwives? Would you attack your Savior? Someone loving, innocent, pure and true?

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