Everleigh Victoria McCarthy was born three months premature at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and weighed a little over two pounds. Soon after her birth on July 25, 2020, she developed massive bleeding in her brain.
Still, her parents, Alana Ross and Daniel McCarthy, remained hopeful that they would be able to bring her home. They held her, read her “Little Red Riding Hood,” and told her they loved her.
But on Aug. 6, when Everleigh was less than 2 weeks old, doctors told the couple that she would not survive. The baby was taken off the ventilator and Ms. Ross held her and watched the heart monitor flatline.
The nurses gently cleaned Everleigh’s body and dressed her in a white satin gown. Her parents then began the unbearable task of planning a memorial service for their firstborn child.
But when the funeral home tried to retrieve Everleigh’s body four days later, hospital employees said that they could not find her remains, according to a police report.
The Boston police determined that the baby’s body “was probably mistaken as soiled linen” and discarded, officers wrote in the report.
When the funeral home called the couple to tell them their child’s body had been lost, a new wave of grief hit them.
“It’s like she died all over again,” Ms. Ross said.
On Thursday, Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy sued the hospital in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. They are not seeking a specific monetary amount, said Greg Henning, one of the couple’s lawyers. The goal, the couple said, was to prevent the hospital from losing the body of someone else’s child.
“We don’t want anybody else to go through this,” Ms. Ross, 37, said. “We want the hospital to be held accountable. We want them to fix this.”
In a statement on Thursday, Dr. Sunil Eappen, Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s chief medical officer, expressed “our deepest sympathies and most sincere apologies to the Ross and McCarthy family for their loss and the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding it.”
“As with any instance in which there is a concern raised related to our standard of care or practice,” he said, “we readily and transparently shared the details with the patient’s family. We always evaluate both system and human factors that contribute to errors or potential issues raised by patients, family members or staff and take action. Due to pending litigation, we are unable to comment specifically on this case.”
A lawyer for the hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The loss of a body by a hospital, particularly of a child, seems unimaginable, but it happens with some frequency. In 2017, a woman sued after a hospital in Minnesota threw away her stillborn baby, whose remains were found two weeks later in a bag of dirty linens in a laundry facility. In 2009, the police searched garbage dumps in Pennsylvania and New Jersey after the family of a baby who died 20 minutes after its birth said the hospital had accidentally discarded the body.
“We don’t know the answer to how often it happens,” Mr. Henning said. “Many times the institutions that are losing an infant or losing a body realize what extraordinarily terrible type of conduct it is.”
He added, “And they have a desire to resolve the matter before it becomes a public issue.”
In the Boston case, relatives of Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy called the police a day after the couple were told that Everleigh’s remains were missing.
Detectives interviewed a hospital pathologist who initially told them that only pathologists were allowed inside the examination room in the hospital’s morgue and that no soiled linens had been removed the day after Everleigh’s body was brought there.
But the pathologist later admitted that he had seen linens on a stainless steel tray and disposed of them in a bag meant for soiled materials, according to the police report.
The police learned that linens are taken to a cleaning service with an on-site compactor. A waste management company then sends any hospital waste to landfills in South Carolina and New Hampshire, or to be incinerated at another facility.
Officers and employees searched a waste center in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood center twice, scouring for hours through hospital gowns, blood-soaked clothes and rags, and dirty linens and towels. They did not find the body, according the police report.
The police determined that Everleigh’s body had not been put in the “proper area where deceased children” are supposed to be placed in the morgue cooler, the report said. Her remains were most likely sent to one of the landfills or were incinerated, according to the lawsuit.
The police also noted that one of the nurses who had brought Everleigh’s body to the morgue had not returned calls from the hospital, which was doing its own investigation. The hospital also failed to give detectives a “complete video” that showed what happened between the time the baby’s body was brought to the morgue and the time hospital employees realized that her remains were missing.
Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy, who had planned to bury Everleigh in a family plot, said they were still in disbelief that their daughter’s body is gone.
“Having accepted the fact that she was going to pass away was one thing,” Mr. McCarthy, 38, said. “I never thought that I would have to accept the fact that I would have to go to bed every night not knowing where she is.”
Ms. Ross, a nonclinical medical writer, and Mr. McCarthy, a general manager at a frozen pie company, met when they were in the fifth grade. They grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, where they played freeze tag and basketball at recess.
They remained friends through the years but did not fall in love until they were in their 20s, as they bonded over recent breakups.
“We knew what we didn’t want,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We saw a lot of what we did want in each other.”
They moved in together in 2008. Ten years later, they decided to start a family.
The first two pregnancies ended in miscarriages, but they were optimistic when Ms. Ross became pregnant with Everleigh, who kicked energetically.
But during the second trimester, Ms. Ross learned that her cervix was shortening, meaning she was at risk of giving birth early. She was put on partial bed rest, but on July 23, 2020, she felt her water break and the couple rushed to Brigham and Women’s, a 180-year-old institution that bills itself as “the most trusted name in women’s health.”
All Ms. Ross and Mr. McCarthy have left of Everleigh are photographs, a few mementos and a memory box that the hospital nurses put together that includes the water that Everleigh’s grandmothers, who are Catholic, used to baptize her in her final moments.
The couple have gone to therapy. They are determined to have another child.
“We’re still trying to move forward and eventually have a family,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Right now, we’re fighting this and telling Everleigh’s story because she’s not here to tell it.”