SUMMARY: Donna Heim, age 20, died August 13, 1986 after an abortion performed by Mahlon Cannon at Her Medical Clinic in Los Angeles, CA.

HerMedicalClinic.jpg
Her Medical Clinic
Donna Kay Heim, a 20-year-old nursery school teacher, went to Her Medical Clinic on August 12, 1986, accompanied by her sister. She was 21 weeks pregnant. Staff had inserted laminaria (seaweed sticks used to dilate the cervix) the previous day in preparation for the abortion.


Donna noted on her medical history that she had asthma. In spite of the pre-existing condition, a nurse anesthetist administered Brevital and nitrous oxideas general anesthesia for Donna's safe and legal abortion without anybody first performing a proper pre-operative examination. Donna was not intubated while under general anesthesia. Donna started to have difficulty breathing. If she had been properly intubated, the nurse would have been able to assist her breathing through the tube. Without the tube in place, the nurse was having great difficulty trying to pump air into Donna's lungs with bag and mask. Mahlon Cannon continued with the procedure for five more minutes before helping the nurse anesthetist to try to restore Donna's breathing.

Nobody administered the proper medication to help relieve the bronchospasm that was preventing Donna from getting air into her lungs. Instead, Cannon lifted Donna up and tried to perform the Heimlich maneuver, which of course would be pointless since Donna wasn't choking on a foreign object. He then lay Donna flat and wasted more time trying to clear her airway with his fingers. He also tried to perform a tracheotomy.

Finally somebody called an ambulance. By then Donna had gone into full cardiac arrest.

MahlonCannon.png
Dr. Mahlon Cannon
Donna's sister, who was in the waiting room, became alarmed at the intense staff activity she noticed, and questioned a staffer about her sister. She was reassured that Donna was fine. The sister saw the ambulance pull up to the building and stepped outside, where she observed her sister being transferred into the emergency vehicle. Donna's sister followed the ambulance to a nearby hospital, which summoned the comatose young woman's parents.


Donna died the next day without regaining consciousness. An investigation was sparked, and an administrative law judge ruled that Cannon was negligent in continuing with the abortion despite the patient's respiratory distress. The judge also found that Cannon often failed to do medical exams, take medical histories, or administer standard tests prior to abortions.

Donna's father, Richard Heim, told the Sacramento Bee, "I honestly thought that within a month or two the man would be in prison for manslaugher. When you go to the cemetery to visit your daughter, there's no way you can explain that, and this guy's just kicking back and making more money."

Donna's mother, Barbara Heim, told the Daily News of Los Angeles County, "I thought they'd close the door so no one else would die." But a month after Donna's fatal abortion Liliana Cortez, another woman with asthma, also died after an abortion at Her Medical Clinic. Michelle Thames would die at Her Medical Clinic in 1987 after being improperly resuscitated.

Sources:
  • Medical board documents
  • "Hearing Begins to Revoke License of L.A. Physician," Daily News of Los Angeles, Feb. 20, 1991
  • "California's Slow Regulatory Process Offers a License to Perform Damage," Sacramento Bee, Jun. 9, 1993
  • Los Angeles Times 6/17/91,
  • Los Angeles Herald Examiner 2/22/88
  • "Deaths of 3 Women Following Abortions Spur Clinic Probes," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 29, 1988
  • "State Panel Accuses MD of Negligence in 3 Deaths," Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1990
  • "Physician in Abortion Case Loses License," Los Angeles Times, Jun. 17, 1991
  • The Wanderer, July 1991