Amy Herbst, former singer with the Nashville Opera Company, is suing
the US Army hospital where she underwent a routine episiotomy during childbirth last February. Herbst and her husband, former Army Staff Sgt. James Herbst, are seeking $2.5 million USD in damages against Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. The lawsuit alleges negligence, pain and suffering, embarrassment, and loss of income. Herbst claims the surgery caused her to lose control of her flatulence, and sometimes even her bowel movements.
The lawsuit states
, "As a result of her incontinence and excessive flatulence, Herbst has been unable to work as a professional opera singer." According to Herbst's attorney, "She is suffering through a very embarrassing and very significant injury, and frankly, the prognosis of a fully successful repair is pretty low." An episiotomy surgery requires cutting tissue near the woman's anus to help with delivery of the baby. Allegedly, Herbst's procedure did not properly heal, which left the soprano unable to sing high notes without passing gas.
describes the injury in further detail, stating that Herbst was left with a "complete breakdown of the episiotomy and perineum and the external sphincter is disrupted and the vagina and rectum are basically connected without any perineal body." Herbst claims a nurse-midwife at the hospital caused her injuries when the nurse performed the episiotomy without Herbst's consent. This procedure is common during childbirth, but is only performed if the baby is in distress. According to Herbst's lawyer, Charles Allen, medical records indicate the baby's shoulder was impeding delivery.
Allen explained to the Army Times
, “There seemed to be an assumption that they didn’t need to involve the patient in the decision making...and they were completely wrong, as a matter of law and social responsibility." Allen continued, "The patient has a right to decide what’s done with her body.” A statement made by an Army Hospital spokesperson, Laura Boyd, states, “The Blanchfield Army Community Hospital staff always strives to provide high quality, safe and accessible health care that fully complies with all applicable standards of care.” During a follow-up visit, another Army Hospital nurse informed Herbst that attempts to repair the incision had been unsuccessful.
The Herbst couple alleges in their lawsuit the nurse-midwife made the incision during the second stage of Herbst's labor. The couple has already dealt with several legal obstacles in order to file their lawsuit against the hospital. According to the Huffington Post
, "Under the concept of sovereign immunity, in which the government may not be sued without its permission for acts taken on behalf of it, most people have high legal hurdles to cross to bring a lawsuit. Under Federal Tort Claims Act, the government has waived sovereign immunity if a tortious act of a federal employee causes damage."
Although Herbst has managed to successfully file a lawsuit against a government institution, due to her flatulence issue it is not likely she will ever return to her career as an opera singer.