Happy, healthy, and always smiling. That's how Cali Iheanachor’s parents describe their baby girl. But Cali’s mom has very different words about her daughter’s birth.
"Once I felt it, I was just screaming like, 'Stop. I can feel it. I can feel it. And after that, I'm pretty sure I passed out from the pain," Delfina Mota said, describing an emergency C-section she said she had without anesthesia last November.
"Something like out of a horror movie,” Mota remembers. “You can't imagine. I would rather have delivered (Cali) vaginally, with no medicine, than being cut with a knife."
According to their malpractice and negligence lawsuit, the problem started when Mota's blood pressure dropped and her doctor at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, California, couldn’t find the baby's heart rate.
Three minutes later, the doctor called for an emergency C-section. According to the lawsuit, the anesthesiologist on call, Dr. David Seif, was “paged multiple times (but) did not respond.”
Nine minutes after sending out that page, there was still no response from Dr. Seif. The surgical team strapped Mota to the operating table and began to cut her open.
Mota’s fiance and the father of her child, Paul Iheanachor, said he heard Mota’s screams and then a silence after she passed out.
According to the lawsuit, Iheanachor tried to get inside the operating room, to comfort Mota, “but was held back by several hospital personnel.”
He told NBC 7 Investigates he has vivid, terrifying memories of what he heard.
"If somebody put a knife in your stomach and cut you open, and had their hands on your insides, and ripped your baby out, you know. I just tried to put myself in her shoes,” Paul said. “Just tried to wrap my mind around how it would feel to basically be gutted like a fish."
Norman Finkelstein, the family’s attorney, said the inadequate response by the hospital, as outlined in the lawsuit, is shocking.
“I’ve discussed this with people, and they say, ‘Where did this happen, in India, in some third-world country? And I say, ‘No, right here in San Diego, which is just unbelievable,” said Finkelstein. “If you want the best care, in case, God forbid, an emergency situation arises, you want to be in a big hospital, and this hospital failed."
NBC 7 Investigates reached out to Tri-City Hospital’s General Counsel but they did not respond to questions about the lawsuit.
UPDATE - August 3: Aaron Byzak, Chief Government and External Affairs Officer for Tri-City Medical Center, sent NBC 7 this statement, "Patient safety and quality are the utmost priorities for Tri-City Medical Center and all of our partners. While we normally don’t comment on pending litigation, the patient’s public discussion of the care she received during her emergency C-section compels us to address this outrageous allegation. The patient was administered anesthesia prior to the surgery. We are pleased that the baby is 'healthy' and 'happy'."
A representative of the Anesthesia Service Medical Group (ASMG), of which Dr. Seif is a member, denied the allegations specified in the lawsuit.
“The group, on behalf of Dr. Seif, is confident that anesthesia services would have been available, and were available,” an ASMG representative wrote in an email response to NBC 7 Investigates. “Additionally, the group and Dr. Seif are confident that the care provided by Dr. Seif was appropriate under the circumstances.”
The family's lawyer says the facts show there was clearly a problem with proper staffing at Tri-City Hospital.
"That's what I'd like to see changed so that this doesn't happen to somebody else. Because this was horrific," Finkelstein said.
Delfina Mota says it’s a horror she’ll never forget.
“It’s probably going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” she said.