April Saul said Monday that Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown repeatedly refused her request to transfer her daughter to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for treatment even though Lehigh Valley didn't have the specialist the baby required.
Lehigh Valley officials said later Monday they had been in touch with Children's Hospital, and a prosecutor dismissed Saul's account, accusing her and the baby's father of endangering the baby's welfare. Police filed charges last week against Saul and her fiance, Daniel Rivera, for removing 3-month-old Aralynn from Lehigh Valley's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit without permission.
Saul, 42, said she and Rivera, 43, had begged Lehigh Valley for a transfer to Children's Hospital but officials at the Allentown facility refused, telling her Medicaid wouldn't pay for it. She contends the hospital was "uncooperative" and never formally asked for a transfer.
"Danny and I pled, in meeting after meeting with Lehigh Valley, for months," Saul said. "We kept saying, 'We feel as though you lack expertise. We feel as though our child has issues you can't address. We want her transferred. What do we have to do to get our baby transferred?' For months we were just getting the runaround."
District Attorney Jim Martin called Saul's account "nonsense," saying Children's Hospital had indicated her daughter wasn't medically ready for transfer. He noted that Aralynn had suffered episodes in which she had stopped breathing as recently as a few days before the couple took her.
"It was a pretty clear-cut case of two parents who just didn't act reasonably," Martin said. "Whether they were well intentioned or not does not really matter as far as I'm concerned."
Saul had intended to give birth at Children's Hospital but went into labor while visiting relatives in Allentown, and Lehigh Valley was the closest hospital. Aralynn, who has Down syndrome, was born there prematurely last July.
Lehigh Valley Hospital said Monday that whenever a patient requests a transfer it contacts the facility that would receive the patient and it's then "determined by the receiving institution when and if the transfer would be appropriate." In Aralynn's case, it said, it had been in contact with Children's Hospital multiple times "to work out future care needs."
Lehigh Valley Hospital has said it was obligated by state law to report Saul and Rivera to civil authorities once they ignored medical advice and removed their "medically unstable" daughter.
Saul said she never would have placed her child in danger. She said Aralynn was breathing on her own and wasn't hooked up to an oxygen machine or an IV pole when they left with her Oct. 23, intending to go straight to Children's Hospital, about 60 miles south.
"We felt like we were backed into a corner, we had no recourse and we were given no other option," Saul said. "We are Aralynn's advocates. If we don't advocate for optimum health care for her, who will? That's a parent's responsibility."
She asserted no one from either hospital told her the baby wasn't stable enough to be transferred.
The couple were stopped by Allentown police before they made it out of the city.
Saul and Rivera, of Pottstown, face a Friday preliminary hearing on charges of endangering the welfare of children and disorderly conduct, misdemeanors. Saul said they'll fight the charges.
Lehigh Valley eventually arranged to transfer Aralynn to Children's Hospital, where she's scheduled to have heart surgery this week.