SUMMARY: Curtis Boyd performed an abortion on 22-year-old Vanessa Preston at his Fairmount Clinic in Dallas, TX on January 22, 1980. She died later that day.

VanessaPrestonClarksvilleTXHS1974.jpgOn January 22, 1980, Vanessa Gill Preston, a 22-year-old worker at Mother Goose Day Care Center, went to Fairmont Clinic in Dallas for a safe, legal abortion. She was accompanied by her husband, Richard, a minister, and their small son, from their home in Paris, Texas.

At Fairmount, National Abortion Federation member Curtis Boyd performed a safe, legal dilation and extraction abortion on her. Boyd had started his abortion practice illegally in the 1960s, getting referrals from clergy members who took it upon themselves to connect women with doctors willing to perform abortions. Boyd said that each patient "came to my office and checked in like any other patient that saw me at my primary-care practice." Because of considerations for his wife and children, Boyd knew that maintaining a low profile outside the abortion referral network was key to remaining out of prison, "Complications were what could get you, the hospital would get suspicious. I had to learn to have a very low complication rate."

By the time Vanessa came to him, Boyd had perhaps 15 years under his belt as a practicing abortionist. His habit of striving for a low complication rate did not come through in this case. Vanessa suffered multiple punctures of her vagina during the procedure. Before Boyd could remove the placenta, Vanessa went into a grand mal seizure and then into cardiac arrest.


To the credit of Boyd and the Fairmount staff, emergency procedures were immediately instituted. They summoned an ambulance, and Boyd and a nurse performed CPR and got Vanessa's heart to beat again. But before the ambulance arrived, Vanessa again went into cardiac arrest. Again, staff at Fairmount performed CPR. Paramedics and staff stabilized Vanessa for transport to the hospital.

naflogo.jpgAbout 40 minutes into exploratory surgery, trying to address the retained placenta and vaginal punctures, Vanessa again went into cardiac arrest. She was given a total of 24 units of blood to try to keep her circulation intact despite her massive, unstoppable blood loss. For an hour and a half, hospital staff tried in vain to resuscitate Vanessa before finally pronouncing her dead.

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An autopsy revealed that she had developed amniotic fluid embolism (AFE - amniotic fluid in the mother's bloodstream) and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC - a blood clotting disorder) during the abortion. This is what caused her cardiac arrest. When Boyd's staff resuscitated Vanessa, they caused a small laceration of her liver. This is typical in even properly performed CPR, and is not usually life-threatening. However, because of the DIC, Vanessa's blood couldn't clot, and she bled to death from the liver laceration. Since second-trimester evacuation abortions were still new (read "experimental") at the time, Boyd and his staff didn't realize that there was a risk of DIC.

VanessaPrestonParisTXHS1973.pngBoyd, to his credit, reported Vanessa's death to the Centers for Disease Control. He also wrote a medical journal article about her death, warning other abortionists that DIC could occur during second-trimester evacuation abortions.


Sources:
  • "Abortion Patient Dies After Seizure," Dallas Morning News 1/24/80,
  • "Report clears clinic in abortion death," Dallas Morning News 1/25/80;
  • American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 10/1/81;
  • Texas Autopsy Report No. 0190-80-0095;
  • Texas Death Certificate 07018
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