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Former nurse arrested after woman in vegetative state gives birth

PHOENIX (January 23, 2019) – Police in Arizona have arrested a former nurse after a woman gave birth while in a vegetative state. The woman had been a patient at the facility for at least 10 years after a near-drowning incident left her in a vegetative state.

Nathan Sutherland, 36, was arrested after the Phoenix Police Department obtained a DNA sample from him and the baby. He was immediately booked into the Maricopa County Jail without bond and charged with one count of vulnerable adult abuse and one count of sexual assault.

Sutherland had been a licensed practical nurse at Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix since 2011 and was reportedly responsible for caring for the woman at the time of the alleged abuse that caused the pregnancy, ABC News reports. 

The woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Dec. 29.

Hacienda Healthcare released a statement following the birth, describing the incident as “deeply disturbing.” The healthcare facility says they were not aware of the woman’s pregnancy and will fully cooperate in the investigation. Officials with Hacienda went on to say that security measures have continually increased since news of the incident first surfaced.

The Arizona state Department of Health Services has instructed the facility to increase security and staff presence during interaction with patients and increase monitoring of patient care areas. Additionally, another person is required to be in the room when male health-care aides provide treatment to female patients.

According to the woman’s family, she is not in a coma but has “significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood. She does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck.”

The difference between being in a coma and being in a vegetative state is that a patient in a coma is completely unresponsive, does not react to light or sound, cannot feel pain and whose eyes remain closed. Comas normally last for a finite period of time – days, weeks or even months. A patient in a vegetative state is still unconscious, but such a condition can be characterized by involuntary eye movement, teeth-grinding and facial expressions. Some patients in a vegetative state can remain so for years or indefinitely, according to health officials.

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