BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Savannah Brooks said she was presented with an impossible choice: she could watch Jasper, her baby boy, suffer and die slowly on his own – or the hospital “could help him pass away faster.” Hospital officials, Brooks claimed, gave her only half an hour to make the decision that would mean life or death for her child. She said she authorized a doctor to proceed with the second option. The doctor, Brooks said, later “pushed two syringes of medicine” into the baby’s IV, and on October 30, 2020, twelve minutes before Halloween, Jasper – four months and six days old – was pronounced dead.
Now, Jasper’s mother has filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Alabama Birmingham’s hospital, where her baby was born, Children’s of Alabama, where her child died, and several doctors involved in Jasper’s care. Brooks claims that the hospitals’ and doctors’ negligence led to the wrongful death of her son. Jasper’s death was caused not just by their negligence, she argued, but by the direct and indirect actions of the healthcare providers who allegedly suggested and carried out what Brooks effectively characterized as an illegal euthanization of her child.
When contacted for this story, both UAB and Children’s of Alabama refused to comment, citing pending litigation. In legal filings, Children’s of Alabama has argued that Savannah Brooks, who filed her suit without the aid of a lawyer, is not entitled to represent the estate of her deceased son in court. In additional court filings, lawyers for UAB Hospital Management and two of the doctors named in the suit denied all allegations made by Savannah Brooks, arguing that the mother has made no claims that warrant court action and that Alabama’s wrongful death statute is itself unconstitutional. A third doctor named in the suit has not yet responded to the claims in court or otherwise.
From Mobile to Birmingham
From the start, Savannah Brooks knew Jasper would have to be a fighter.
When Brooks was 18 weeks pregnant with Jasper, she learned that he suffered from a heart condition called an atrioventricular canal defect (AVC). Essentially, Jasper had a hole in the wall separating his heart’s chambers.
According to Brooks, her doctors in Mobile advised her that Jasper would need to be born at UAB Women and Infants Center in Birmingham so that the baby could be transferred immediately after his birth to nearby Children’s of Alabama for heart surgery.
When Brooks eventually went into labor, she hadn’t yet relocated to Birmingham. Instead, Brooks said she was transferred by ambulance from a Mobile hospital all the way to UAB in Birmingham.
Not long after Brooks arrived at UAB on June 22, 2020, the mother said she was told Jasper’s heart rate had dropped. A doctor examined her, Brooks said, and determined her water had not finished breaking. She said she was moved to an operating room and told she would deliver Jasper via c-section.
After a few minutes lying in the operating room, Brooks said another doctor entered and ordered that she be moved back to labor and delivery for a natural birth.
“Savannah Brooks perceived that the doctors disagreed about the best course of treatment – whether Jasper should be delivered via c-section or natural birth,” the lawsuit said.
Soon, the doctors would attempt to use a suction cup three times to deliver Jasper, causing bruising on the child’s head, his mother said.
“When Jasper was born at 2:44 a.m. on June 23, 2020, in the UAB Women and Infants Center, he was not breathing, so the medical providers immediately transferred him to the NICU,” according to the suit.
Jasper was later transferred to Children’s for heart surgery, his mother said, and was quickly battling an infection. Antibiotics were being administered to Jasper through an arterial line, his mother said.
For weeks, Jasper kept up the fight. When he was about two months old, while still hospitalized in Birmingham, his mother said he began to get better. Jasper’s arterial line was removed by medical staff, according to Brooks. The doctors, she said, even discussed sending Jasper home with her and her sister, who’d been aiding in Jasper’s care.
Soon after the improvement, though, Brooks said her son’s kidneys lost more functionality. He went into chronic kidney disease, she said. A new arterial line was inserted into Jasper.
Jasper’s condition again improved for a while. His kidneys began to function; dialysis slowed, then stopped, according to the suit.
Then, Brooks said things took a turn for the worst.
The beginning of the end
According to Jasper’s mother, at around 2:00 a.m. on October 27, Dr. Santiago Borasino – one of the doctors responsible for Jasper’s care – entered the hospital room and told Savannah her son would not survive.
“He cried during this conversation and appeared defeated,” Brooks wrote of the doctor. “He stated that Jasper had a blood staph injection that had been caused by the hospital leaving the femoral ART line in too long.”
The infection could no longer be treated, the doctor allegedly said, and Jasper would eventually die from it.
“Dr. Borasino advised Savannah Brooks that she should probably sue the hospital based on the ART line being left in too long and causing the infection,” the lawsuit claimed.
The next day, Dr. Erika Mendoza informed Savannah Brooks that the hospital planned to “withdraw further life-saving measures,” according to the suit.
“Dr. Mendoza informed Savannah Brooks that she had two options,” the suit said. “She could watch Jasper suffer and die slowly, or the hospital could help him pass away faster.”
Two nurses witnessed the conversation, Brooks said, in which Mendoza said that the hospital could “help Jasper pass away…with a medicine that would stop his heart and make him stop breathing.”
Mendoza gave Brooks and her sister half an hour to discuss the options, Brooks said, and they chose to authorize the doctor to carry out the second option.
Brooks called more than half a dozen family members from Mobile who she said traveled to Birmingham to say goodbye to Jasper.
Once the family members arrived, around 11:40 p.m. on October 20, 2020, Mendoza, two nurses, and a respiratory therapist removed Jasper’s ventilator, according to Brooks’ lawsuit.
“Jasper was still breathing and moving around after his ventilator was removed,” the suit said. “Then Dr. Mendoza pushed two syringes of medicine into Jasper’s IV. After the first syringe, Jasper relaxed. Then after the second syringe, Jasper’s heart stopped and he died.”
Jasper’s cause of death was listed on the child’s death certificate as cardiopulmonary arrest, congenital heart defect, natural causes, according to the suit.
Savannah Brooks’ suit argued that the negligence of the defendants in the case led to Jasper’s death. Children’s of Alabama, Mendoza, Borasino, and others listed in the suit allegedly “authorized the use of, prescribed, and administered a drug which aided Jasper in dying and which caused and hastened his death,” the suit claimed.
Using medication to aid in another person’s death, the suit argued, violated Alabama’s ban on assisted suicide.
The suit demanded that a jury decide the outcome of the case, asking that it award Jasper’s estate “an amount deemed appropriate by the jury and which will adequately reflect the enormity of the Defendants’ wrong…”
Both UAB and Children’s of Alabama refused to comment for this story, citing pending litigation. In legal filings, Children’s of Alabama has argued that Savannah Brooks, who filed her suit without the aid of a lawyer, is not entitled to represent the estate of her deceased son in court.
In additional court filings, lawyers for UAB Hospital Management and two of the doctors named in the suit denied all allegations made by Savannah Brooks, arguing that the mother has made no claims that warrant court action. Alabama’s wrongful death statute, they have also argued, is itself unconstitutional.
The legal team representing UAB Hospital Management, Santiago Borasino, and Ahmed Asfari have also sent a list of 25 “interrogatories” to Brooks, probing on subjects ranging from the mother’s social media accounts to whether or not Jasper was related “by blood or marriage” to a health care provider or attorney.
Erika Mendoza has not yet responded to Brooks’ lawsuit in court, according to its docket, and the doctor has not yet responded to CBS 42’s requests for comment.
Brooks’ wrongful death suit is pending before Jefferson County Judge Tamara Harris Johnson, who has yet to rule on defendants’ efforts to dismiss the case.