On July 18, 2015, at 26 weeks gestation, Scarlet Suzy McGonigal was delivered stillborn at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. At the time, her parents Katie and Jim were unaware of what caused their preborn daughter’s death, but it was later discovered to be the result of a listeria infection. After her birth, the couple thought their daughter had been cremated, but 16 months later, they discovered she was buried in a grave marked by just a number.
As reported by the New Haven Register, Katie McGonigal was in labor with Scarlet when the staff began to inquire about an autopsy as well as whether or not the parents wanted photos of the tiny baby girl.
“They were asking us about doing an autopsy and the reason was they had no idea what had happened with Katie,” Jim McGonigal told the New Haven Register. “They didn’t know why the baby had passed away. They said if they did do an autopsy, then they would have to cremate her because her body was so small.”
The couple was fine with cremation because it was what they wanted for themselves anyway, but the hospital told them that they wouldn’t be able to keep Scarlet’s ashes because “what they do is cremate her with other medical waste” explained Jim McGonigal.
Katie McGonigal called this statement “very cold.”
Shortly after Scarlet was born, Katie and Jim McGonigal were still reeling from their heartbreaking loss. Katie McGonigal was on a morphine drip when the hospital gave her papers to sign authorizing the hospital to dispose of Scarlet’s remains. She mistakenly checked the wrong box and gave the hospital the option of burying her daughter without a marker.
16 months later when Katie McGonigal tried to get a death certificate for Scarlet she noticed that the certificate said Scarlet was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven and Jim McGonigal’s name was listed incorrectly.
“We got to this cemetery and there was this big lawn and underneath this grass and dirt there were these coaster-size numbers,” said Jim McGonigal. “She was No. 437.”
Saddened to see their daughter buried under a number with about 1,000 other similar markers surrounding her, they moved Scarlet to a cemetery closer to home and sued the hospital claiming that Yale New Haven violated the Patient’s Bill of Rights. They told the New Haven Register that what they really want is for no other parent to go through this. They wonder how many parents are unaware that their child is in a grave marked by just a number.
“The lawsuit per se is just to make sure that they need to listen; they need to change their policies and this can’t happen to somebody else,” said Katie McGonigal.
Now the couple and their three living children have a place to visit Scarlet close to their home, and while they wonder if Scarlet could have lived if Katie McGonigal had received a proper diagnosis in time, they try not to dwell much on anger. They want to move forward helping other parents to avoid the extra pain they went through.