Code Pink Hits California Hospital When Baby Is Removed

Jan. 18--Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies are investigating whether to recommend child endangerment charges against a San Jose mother who escaped from Valley Medical Center with her 1-day-old daughter Wednesday night after allegedly tampering with the hospital's bracelet monitoring system.

Karla Lugo, 24, and her baby were found about 10 p.m. Wednesday at a friend's house near Alma Avenue in San Jose -- about five hours after the baby was taken from the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, Sgt. Ed Wise said. The baby, who was suffering from medical problems so severe that the hospital alerted Child Protective Services, has been taken back to the hospital. Wise did not know Lugo's status late Wednesday, but he assumed she would be checked out at the hospital and questioned today.

The discovery capped a frantic search for Lugo, whose ability to take the child home was brought into question because of test results after her daughter's birth. Wise said authorities will investigate both parents based on their daughter's serious medical problems at birth.

Before the baby was found, doctors made desperate pleas for Lugo to return. Dr. Michelle Takase-Sanchez, who delivered the baby, wouldn't describe her patient's medical condition, citing federal privacy laws. But she did say that mothers in Lugo's condition typically deliver babies who are small and suffer from anemia and dehydration.

"We are really concerned about you," Takase-Sanchez said earlier Wednesday, hoping to reach Lugo.

Hospital spokeswoman Joy Alexiou said a "Code Pink" alert went out about 5:25 p.m. Wednesday, when both the infant's and mother's security bracelets were tampered with. Sensors in the plastic-coated bracelets set off an alarm. The bracelets are given to infants and patients who suffer traumatic brain injuries because they tend to wander and forget where they are, hospital officials said.

"Somehow, she managed to get out," said Alexiou, who added that this kind of incident had never happened at Valley Medical Center.

What's astonishing is that Lugo -- who underwent a caesarean section -- was able to elude nurses and security. Mothers who undergo C-sections typically shuffle slowly and bleed heavily the first few days after the major operation.

Laboratory work completed at the hospital after the baby's birth triggered a call to CPS, Takase-Sanchez said. Lugo was aware that authorities had been alerted.

But complicating the issue Wednesday night, Wise said, was that the case was never officially considered a kidnapping because there was "some question whether the CPS paperwork has gone through."

Amber alerts -- electronic kidnapping notices broadcast to the media and displayed along highways throughout the state -- usually are posted within hours of a reported abduction. An alert was not issued in this situation.

"The social worker said there was a hold on the mother, but it's kind of convoluted," Wise said.

The relationship between Lugo and the baby's father is unclear. The father, who has not been identified, visited the hospital earlier Wednesday and cooperated in the search for Lugo. Lugo's mother and sister also cooperated with authorities, Wise said.

Lugo visited them after she left the hospital, in a yellow cab, and they apparently were unaware of what was going on. She told them she had to leave to pick up her 1-year-old son. The boy's fate was unclear Wednesday, Wise said.

Hospital staff routinely practice security drills to prevent unwanted outsiders from coming in as well as situations like Lugo's, Alexiou said. Hospital employees will immediately review what happened in this case, she said.

"We definitely need to look at this again, our procedures, every piece of equipment, everything," Alexiou said. "We need to see what might have gone wrong and well, and what did go wrong. How did she get out? How did she remove those bracelets?"

Baby abductions are rare and mostly take place at hospitals, according to a 2005 report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The report found that of the 230 infant abductions nationwide from 1983 to 2004 -- 116 occurred at health care facilities. All but five of those hospital-abducted babies, the report said, were later found.

Mercury News researcher Diana Stickler contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 2007, San Jose Mercury News, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.