Eighteen-year-old Sylvia underwent a safe and legal abortion at the hands of Arnold Bickham on New Year's Eve of 1986. She was in the second trimester of her pregnancy, but Bickham used a suction technique suitable for a first-trimester pregnancy. After the abortion, Bickham gave Sylvia repeated injections of Demerol because she was reporting severe abdominal cramps.
According to Sylvia's mother, Sylvia was bleeding, weak, and unable to walk. When Sylvia tried to get to her feet and collapsed, Bickham called her "lazy," put her in a wheelchair, and physically ejected her from his Chicago clinic.
Sylvia's mother took her to a nearby hospital, where staff tried in vain to save Sylvia, who had arrived with no pulse and no blood pressure. An emergency hysterectomy was done to remove her lacerated uterus, which still had a plastic instrument embedded in it. The instrument was embedded in a 6.5 cm laceration, and Sylvia also had a 2.2 cm laceration of her vagina. Sylvia bled to death.
Bickham claimed that he "didn't think there was anything wrong" with Sylvia, and said that he'd merely been helping her with the wheelchair. He blamed Sylvia's death on the hospital, saying, "They were successful in repairing the damage done in the abortion, but in doing that, they perforated an artery causing there to be blood loss in the chest cavity. That was something she was not able to survive." The autopsy report, however, noted the chest tube incision but noted "lungs are well expanded and the pleural cavities are free of fluid and adhesions." An attorney with the Department of Professional Regulation said, "This patient would never have been allowed to leave Bickham's clinic with her mother.
The postmortum report said: "The circumstances of injury, review of the Medical records, the findings at autopsy examination, and subsequent investigation of the circumstances of the case provide evidence of gross negligence and abandonment on the part of the original treating physician. In consideration of the above, the manner of death is determined to be Homicide." However, no charges were pressed against Bickham.
The suit filed by Sylvia's survivors noted that Bickahm had failed to perform an ultrasound, and failed to have adequate staff or equipment. The specimen of abortion tissue sent from clinic contained segments of placental tissue, umbilical cord, and fetal intestinal parts and liver.
Sylvia left one child motherless.
Bickham's license was revoked by Illinois in October of 1988 due to Sylvia's death. He was arrested in September of 1989 for practicing medicine without license, and sentenced to 30 months probation and 2,600 hours of community service in lieu of 6 months jail, in addition to a $10,000 fine.
Sources: 576 N.E.2d 975 (IL Appellate 1st District, 3rd Division, 1991); Cook County (IL) Circuit Court Case No. 87L 15971; Cook County (IL) Postmortem Examination, # 720-December 1986; Chicago Sun-Times: “Malpractice charged in abortion death,” February 18, 1987, “State failure to act on abortionist told,” October 12, 1989; Chicago Tribune: “Mother blames doctor in teen abortion death,” February 11, 1988, “Charges sought against doctor in woman’s post-abortion death,” March 2, 1987, “No charges yet in 1986 death,” October 4, 1989
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