Woman Pregnant Again After Losing Baby in Jail
By AISLING SWIFT
Published Thursday, February 4, 2010
Joan Laurel Graeber still cries when she thinks about the baby she and her fiancé, Elias Guzman, lost while she was an inmate in the Collier County Jail last year.
The 23-year-old former Bonita Springs woman visits Elena Laurel Guzman’s grave often and works from home because socializing is still hard for her while she’s grieving.
Today, it will have been a year since they lost Elena, and the couple, who have since moved to New Jersey, plan to get married soon. They’re also expecting another child, Julieta Isabella.
Because of the problems Graeber had with Elena’s dead fetus remaining inside her for so long in the jail, her doctor is monitoring her closely and their baby may be delivered by C-section early, possibly this week.
“Doctors have said she was in there too long and an infection had started to develop,” said Graeber’s attorney, Sharon Hanlon of Naples.
Graeber said doctors don’t want to wait the full 40 weeks.
“They’re just really worried and don’t want the same thing to happen again,” Graeber said. “But she’s very healthy. Because of Elena, I’ve had to go through so many tests.”
Graeber, who was jailed under her married name, Joan Laurel Small, has since divorced Ken Enright Small, whom she blames for landing her in jail when she was 22 and pregnant. She’d never been in trouble with the law.
“I wanted that name gone,” Graeber said, adding she filed for divorce and pushed doctors to remove “Small” from her medical records. “It’s his fault I was in this predicament.”
In September 2007, Graeber landed in jail when her estranged husband was stopped for a traffic violation as he drove her to the bus station. She was leaving him to return to New Jersey.
Small, who has a criminal record involving drugs and domestic violence, asked her to hold $30 of crack in her purse, according to arrest reports and Graeber, who said she told deputies it was his.
But it was too late. She was jailed. Because she had no record, she qualified for pretrial release and in July 2008, she was sentenced to probation and an adjudication of guilt was withheld.
Because she relied on friends for transportation, she was late returning from a class and her probation was violated when she returned late one night, after curfew, and her probation officer was waiting. On Dec. 22, 2008, eight weeks before her baby was due, she was thrown in jail. About a month later, she was sentenced to six months in jail with credit for 127 days.
While behind bars, she experienced pregnancy complications. Graeber told jail medical staff she had RH negative blood and needed a RhoGAM shot to protect the baby, but she was denied the recommended shot for weeks.
Then she experienced a discharge and asked to go to the emergency room. Graeber was told it was normal, to monitor it. It continued for 1½ weeks and she kept medical staff apprised. She also questioned why her baby appeared to be so small, but was told nothing was wrong.
On Feb. 3, 2008, she was scheduled to go to the health department, just yards away from the jail, to have the shot and an ultrasound. She planned to schedule delivery for Feb. 19, her release date.
But the doctor told her the baby was dead: The skull had collapsed because all Graeber’s amniotic fluid had leaked out.
Still, jail officials refused to release her and scheduled removal of the baby for three days later. Knowing a dead fetus could lead to infection or death, Graeber’s public defender, Amy Shirvanipour, fought for her release the next day.
Circuit Judge Fred Hardt signed the order at 11:57 a.m. Feb. 4, ending her sentence and granting immediate release due to her “grave condition.” But jail officials didn’t release her until 3:10 p.m. and refused to let Shirvanipour drive her to the hospital, where she’d scheduled a room. A deputy drove her.
“I can’t believe they forced me to go with them,” Graeber said.
She and Guzman hired Hanlon before they moved to New Jersey. The American Civil Liberties Union, which heard about her plight and others’ detailed by the Daily News, demanded records from the county jail to review its medical policies and others statewide.
Other mothers told the Daily News similar stories and one described having to deliver her baby inside the jail as guards watched and joked. Two other pregnant mothers were released by judges after their attorneys detailed complications.
“I anticipate filing a lawsuit against both parties in the near future,” Hanlon said of the sheriff’s office and Tennessee-based Prison Health Services, which provides medical care.
Jail and sheriff’s officials and PHS have defended their care, but declined comment.
Since the couple left Florida, Graeber’s grandmother died and her mother has cancer, so they moved in with her parents. She’s amazed at the lack of prenatal care she was provided in jail, which should have monitored her more closely because of complications with her first born, a son. Graeber’s examined twice weekly now.
She’s seeing the same doctors who delivered her son, Michael Kenny Graeber, 3½. She and Kenny are now together again.
Guzman, a foreman who had worked for a paving company here for eight years, is employed at a nearby paving firm. Graeber is working for a publishing company from home.
Her church, which is providing pre-marriage counseling, is helping her arrange visits with young inmates. “If I changed, trust me, you can change,” she said of leaving her abusive life.
Her hope is to become a sonogram technician. She believes her daughter could have been saved if the jail had allowed her to have a sonogram earlier.
“If they had only taken the 2 seconds,” Graeber said of allowing her to go to the nearby health department. “Maybe I can help save someone else’s baby because they wouldn’t help me save my mine.”
“It just tears my heart up that they’re still saying they didn’t do anything wrong,” she added. “They took me to the doctor once and the next time, my baby was dead – and they’re saying they gave me proper care?”