Victoria Price had been working for NBC for less than two years when the worldwide quarantine brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As her work ramped-up in the news station, her health suffered… big time. And yet, if it weren’t for one hawk-eyed viewer, Victoria never would have noticed.
Victoria Price was unaware that her health was compromised. Her entire Florida news team was working long hours, day and night, with no intentions of slowing down. If she wanted to keep her position, she’d have to keep her composure. In fact, she prided herself on it.
“As a journalist, it’s been full throttle since the pandemic began,” Price said on her Instagram. “We were covering the most important health story in a century, but my own health was the farthest thing from my mind.” That is, until a viewer chimed in.
After a long day of newscasting, Price logged into her email to discover a message from a concerned viewer. Her words for Price were so jarring that the news anchor was quite concerned.
The woman writing the email noted that Price’s neck looked abnormally swollen. While she wasn’t a doctor, the viewer told the news anchor she might want to visit a doctor and get her throat checked out. Of course, Price was skeptical.
At first, Price hoped the viewer was mistaken. She wasn’t feeling ill, after all. Sure, her throat was a bit sore, but her job was to speak all day long. A little hoarseness was expected. Still, she decided to give her doctor a call.
Price explained to her doctor that she had no symptoms other than a swollen throat. Her doctor informed her that, even though she was mostly asymptomatic, she should pay him a visit. Frightened by his foreboding words, Price set up an emergency appointment right away.
Price showed up to her doctor’s office, masked-up and ready for anything. He took a look at her thyroid and, after a few moments, confirmed her fears; Price had developed thyroid cancer in the middle of her neck. The news got even worse.
While cancer is typically a disease that develops within our bodies, there are certain types that can be seen from the outside. The most common of these visible cancers could be hiding right under your nose. Well… perhaps a little lower than that.
The most common symptoms of thyroid cancer include a swollen neck, pain up to the ears, and trouble swallowing. However, these can also be signs of a standard sore throat. Bad news kept piling up.
Thyroid cancer can spread like wildfire. Once past the thyroid, it can spread far enough to cause irreversible damage. Unfortunately, Price’s cancer had already begun to spread into her lymph nodes — but had it gone too far?
Thankfully, Price’s doctor said she was lucky. Her cancer had just begun its attack on her lymph nodes, which means the viewer might have caught it just in time! However, there was still a chance of complications, as Price was going to need throat surgery.
Thankfully, Price was very positive about her outcome. She was expected to only need one surgical treatment with no chemotherapy or additional procedures. To help calm her nerves, she decided to post about her diagnosis on social media and was instantly bombarded with questions!
Price received tons of love and personal stories from her followers, plus an array of inquiries regarding her diagnosis. One user pointed out that they couldn’t see the lump at all, to which Price responded with an insightful point.
“It’s not super obvious unless you know what to look for,” said Price, who then took a photo from a new angle. This helped her followers fully understand what the viewer saw — and what to look for themselves. So, how did Price’s surgery go?
On the day of her surgery, Price posted a photo of her self in recovery, enjoying a popsicle. “Aside from a little stiffness, soreness, and weakness, I’m feeling pretty great,” she said. As she healed, Price continued sharing about her experience on Instagram. She even claims that the surgery was the easiest part!
“Prior to my thyroidectomy, a lot of people told me “the surgery is the easy part!” I didn’t understand that at first. Now I do.” Price gave her followers a crash course about her months-long process of recovery, even sharing some not-safe-for-work photos. Her prognosis?
“It’s not a death sentence, but it’s a life sentence,” says Price, who will forever be in recovery. “I’ll be on levo and need to balance these levels for the rest of my life… I may be scarred, but I ain’t scared.” Thankful to still be alive, Price has some words of advice.
“Take care of each other. A little kindness went a long way for me.” Victoria was lucky to receive medical attention when she did. And when Laura Levin’s name began popping up in the news, she was reminded of this fact all over again. There were chilling similarities between the women’s stories, and she knew that if one thing had gone wrong, Victoria easily could have ended up in Laura’s shoes.
Laura Levis was alone that morning. She and her husband Peter DeMarco were taking time away to work on their marriage, going to counseling, and living separately. In an apartment by herself, Laura awoke sometime near four am and realized she was having an asthma attack.
As an asthmatic, Laura always carried an inhaler. She was cautious in treating her symptoms and knew how to manage them while maintaining an active lifestyle. As a passionate weight-lifter and hiker who worked out six days a week, she had a handle on living life with asthma. So when she woke up experiencing an asthma attack, she knew what to do.
Thankfully, Laura’s apartment was conveniently located right near Somerville Hospital. So, she decided to walk there. She had to know the severity of her attack, but she probably thought she’d get her usual nebulizer treatment and a dose of the medication prednisone and feel good as new. She believed she had enough time to reach help on foot. What could go wrong?
Laura did everything right in her search for medical assistance. She climbed the hill up to the hospital on foot and at some point, she dialed 911. Somewhere during her attempt to reach help, her asthma attack crossed over from a minor issue to a life-threatening problem. Despite her proximity, the help she needed never arrived.
Laura Beth Levis died at age 34, a few days after her fateful walk to the hospital. Her husband Peter was heartbroken that something so treatable became fatal in Laura’s case. In his grief, he didn’t question the events that led up to her hospitalization. In fact, he left the experience feeling grateful for the hospital staff.
DeMarco was so touched by the way the Somerville Hospital staff had treated him, his wife, and their family in her final days that he wrote a letter thanking them that was published in the New York Times. He used his reach as a journalist to sing their praises, but he soon found out everything he knew was a lie.
Five weeks after Laura’s death, the circumstances still didn’t sit right with her uncle Robert Levis. He called the Somerville Police, who don’t normally make reports regarding medical calls, but they felt compelled to help. They interviewed the first responders and gathered evidence, stringing together a report. When the family received the report, the tragic truth was impossible to deny.
Initially, the hospital staff told Peter that Laura was found some distance away from the hospital, which was the reason she wasn’t found in time to be saved. Looking over the police report, it was apparent the staff had lied.
Laura had indeed made it to the hospital. In fact, she made it all the way to an entrance door. But it was locked and the security desk on the other side was empty. The grim revelations didn’t end there.
Peter wrote dozens of letters and made many phone calls in order to obtain the hospital surveillance footage. Ultimately he got his hands on the tape that showed Laura had reached the locked ambulance entrance to the ER, saw no one, and could only make it to the bench about 30 feet from the public ER entrance. Sitting there, she called 911.
Laura managed to tell the 911 dispatcher where she was and the seriousness of her situation through labored breaths, twice. Finally, they were able to contact a nurse at the ER to go check outside. From surveillance footage, the nurse stayed by the door and merely shifted her head around. In the early morning hours, she failed to notice Laura collapsed on the bench.
The nurse never alerted the security guards about the matter. She didn’t walk outside to see if anyone needed help outside the glow of the entrance light. Instead, the nurse told the 911 dispatcher she saw nothing. By then, Laura couldn’t respond to the dispatcher, so they tracked the location of her cell phone and made another critical error.
In an unforeseen technical error, Laura’s cell phone pinged a tower about 200 feet away from the hospital, when she was actually much closer. The Somerville Fire Department took critical minutes to search the wrong area, though they eventually spotted Laura near the ER entrance and immediately began CPR. Sadly, they were too late.
A police officer on the scene noted in his report noted the lack of response when he tried to alert someone inside the ER, “I started to bang on the glass with my ring and from in the back I heard someone yell, ‘Relax’ in a very [annoyed] tone, and then as she turned the corner and saw me she said, ‘Take it easy’ in that same annoyed tone.”
The only conclusion Peter and his family could draw was that several people had failed Laura and it resulted in her death. He went to Lubin & Meyer, a prominent medical malpractice firm, knowing that a successful settlement couldn’t bring his wife back but it would hold the hospital responsible and prevent further tragedies. He wanted to fight for Laura.
It looked like the government was on Peter DeMarco’s side, at first. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health found violations and so did the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, charging Somerville Hospital with 90K in fines. But their hands were tied from doing much more. Massachusetts law protected hospital staff and prevented fines over 100K in wrongful death suits. Peter felt deflated.
Feeling hopeless, Peter knew something still had to be done. No one else should have to suffer like Laura did when one-minute delays in emergency response are responsible for thousands of deaths a year. With a lawsuit off the table, he wondered, what could he do to save even just one life? How do you change the system?
Peter turned to legislation. “Laura’s Law,” would ensure closer inspection and monitoring of hospital entrances, in addition to proper signage and lighting. If passed, it would be the first of its kind. By the closing days of the legislative session in early January 2021, it was looking like they had a 50/50 chance of passing Laura’s Law.
The state representatives and bill sponsors let Peter know that if they wanted a win, they were going to need to make a lot of noise. Family and friends turned to everyone they could to flood the State House with phone calls and emails asking their representatives to vote in support. Their action worked. On January 5th, Laura’s Law passed.
Peter and his in-laws attended the social distanced ceremony where MA Governor Baker signed Laura’s Law. It felt like a victory that in Laura’s absence, they were able to fight to ensure others wouldn’t suffer the same tragic fate. They learned a harrowing lesson about the medical system and how your trust shouldn’t always lie in the professionals.
Even when Peter spilled his thanks to the nurses and doctors in the New York Times, none of the staff of the hospital confided in him the truth of Laura’s preventable death. The most qualified and caring medical professionals can still be capable of prioritizing their own interests, even to a criminal degree.
Pauline Chambless and her husband struggled with infertility. After over a decade of failing to conceive, along with several taxing miscarriages, they could no longer bear the disappointment. So, in 1984, the couple walked into Dr. Kim McMorries’ office in Nacogdoches, Texas.
“He was the fertility doctor in our area. You couldn’t have asked for a more caring, polite, likable person and doctor,” Pauline said. She felt comfortable, confident, and safe working with Dr. McMorries (below). It was safe to say Pauline and her womb were in the best hands.
It seemed that way, anyway. Just like any alternative methods for having a child, whether it be adoption, IVF, or utilizing a sperm donor, there was a ton of paperwork. Pauline and her husband filled out a questionnaire regarding their preferred donor features, including hair color, height, and ethnicity.
Before they knew it, the couple was paired with hand-selected, anonymous sperm donors that matched their desired characteristics. Pauline endured two-and-a-half years of artificial insemination appointments, praying and hoping a pregnancy would stick.
While this led to a handful of pregnancies, they all ended in miscarriages after about six weeks. “It was devastating,” Pauline stated. Over the course of the long, draining process, she got closer and closer to Dr. McMorries, as he was always there for emotional support.
“Over that period of time, you build up trust for someone who appears to be doing his very best to try to help you conceive. I put my faith in him,” explained Pauline. And in 1986, a miracle happened.
A pregnancy finally stuck, and Dr. McMorries was there for Pauline throughout all nerve-racking nine months. “As soon as I got to the hospital in labor, he came and stayed by my side, through delivery until an hour after Jessica was born,” Pauline detailed.
Jessica was born beautiful and healthy, and Pauline and her husband never wanted to keep any secrets from her; therefore, Jessica grew up knowing she was conceived with help from a donor. So as she got older, the curious kid wondered who her biological daddio was.
“Mom was completely honest, and it made me feel special. I knew how hard she’d tried to have me,” Jessica told The New York Post. The ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s passed the family by, and in 2020, 33-year-old Jessica Stavena (right) was determined to get some answers.
“She also shared everything she knew about my biological father — that he was a tall medical student, with red hair who loved music. I’d often wonder if one day I’d meet him,” the medical-spa manager continued. She soon realized there was more to the mystery than just her father’s identity.
Did Jessica have any half-siblings? Did they know who their father was? Was there a genetic explanation for her own rare medical issues? Her burning questions only got more intense, and she finally did something about it in January 2020.
She took a DNA test, thrilled to finally have some concrete answers. When the results came back on February 23, Jessica was so ecstatic that she called 67-year-old Mama Pauline. “My heart was pounding so hard — I could hear it,” she relayed.
“My husband had Mom on speakerphone as I clicked to see my relatives,” Jessica said. Though her results weren’t as crystal clear as Lizzo’s, turns out Jessica has three half-siblings: two sisters and a brother.
Jessica was practically bursting at the seams with excitement, as she immediately hopped on Facebook and sent her half siblings friend requests. It wasn’t long before she received a message from her long-lost half sister, Eve Wiley.
“Hi! Do you know the details of our birth story? Was Dr. McMorries your mom’s doctor?” Eve’s message read. While Jessica was a bit puzzled, she never could’ve expected what Eve wrote next. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he is also our biological father.”
As you could imagine, Jessica was shell-shocked. What was Eve talking about? How could that be? After reading the message aloud to Pauline (who was still on speakerphone), she was silent. Pauline managed to shout “What!?”
“I just thought, ‘No, that’s absolutely impossible.’ I would never have agreed for my doctor to donate sperm,” Pauline explained. Shockingly, it was possible, as they were victims of “fertility fraud.”
Indiana University law professor Jody Lyneé Madeira defines fertility fraud as “illicit inseminations — an intentional act that occurs when a doctor knowingly uses his own sperm to inseminate a female patient without her consent.” Eve learned about it in 2018.
She and her own mother had a very similar story to Pauline and Jessica’s, and her DNA test revealed some shocking information about her donor. When she realized her donor was actually Dr. McMorries, she confronted him. He wound up sending her a bizarre letter in response.
He explained that he had purposely mixed his sperm with other donors’ in order to improve her mother’s chances of getting pregnant. Eve’s mother denied claims that Dr. McMorries got her permission to do so.
Eve testified to a Senate panel in April 2019, and that September, it officially became a sexual assault for a healthcare professional to use human sperm, eggs, or embryos from an unofficial donor in Texas. Without Eve’s nudging for the passage of Senate Bill 1259, it may’ve never happened.
Jody Lyneé Madeira explained that when cases such as these emerge decades later, way after statues of limitations have ended and documents have been destroyed, pressing charges isn’t an easy task. The professor even filed a complaint against Dr. McMorries with the Texas Medical Board, but sadly nothing came of it.
“To give birth to your baby in front of your husband, while the doctor delivering her is the biological father? It blows my mind that he thought that was okay,” Pauline stated. “It breaks my heart that she wanted to find her biological father for so long. Now it’s just a hardship to her.”
“She didn’t consent to this. Seeing his picture, I think, ‘How could he? Who made him God?’ I just can’t get past the anger and hurt for my mom,” Jessica said in frustration. The mother and daughter felt anger and sorrow for each other, clearly both empathetic individuals.
After doing more digging, Jessica has found that she has a total of seven half siblings, and she only expects that number to grow as more people take DNA tests. Though Jessica’s DNA test led to a sinister discovery, she doesn’t regret it one bit.
As for Pauline, she’s just eternally grateful to have her sweet Jessica, and stated she wouldn’t change that for anything. But while she and her family came to terms with this violation, they wanted to draw attention to this issue so no other woman falls victim to this sort of assualt.