Ginger McCall is mourning the loss of her 7-week-old daughter while trying to raise awareness about the bacterial infection that took her life
When Ginger McCall found out she was pregnant, she and her husband Omar Quintero couldn’t wait to share the joys of life with their daughter. “We dreamed of climbing mountains with Evi, of sharing our love of nature with her,” McCall tells PEOPLE. “Our pregnancy announcement was a picture of us atop a mountain with our 10-week sonogram.”
But the Salem, Oregon couple never got the chance. Instead they are left trying to understand how an undetected infection could take the life of their 7-week-old daughter.
It was March 15 when Evianna Rose started showing odd symptoms.
“As soon as I woke up, I could tell something wasn’t right,” says McCall, 35. “She was making a distinctive sound, like a weak cry or grunting,” she says, referring to what she now knows is a serious sign of the bacterial infection Group B strep.
McCall and her mother-in-law rushed Evianna — known as Evi — to Salem Hospital’s emergency room. “The doctor ran some basic blood tests,” says McCall. “But all they did was give her a saline drip IV and some Tylenol. They told us it was a virus and sent us home.”
Although McCall told the doctor she had tested positive for Group B strep when she was pregnant — and that information was in her medical records, since she delivered Evi at that hospital — it’s unclear why they sent her home.
Group B strep is a bacteria that is carried by 1 in 4 pregnant women, according to Group B Strep International. To help prevent transmission to their babies, women are given four hours of antibiotics during labor. While McCall received the standard antibiotics, she wasn’t aware of something called “late onset Group B strep” which can still occur up to several months after delivery due to an infant’s underdeveloped immune system.
“Having a mother who tested positive for Group B strep is an increased risk factor for late onset, which is why the doctors should have listened when I told them that I had tested positive,” she says. “I was relying on them. They told me, ‘You shouldn’t be worried, this is a normal virus, babies get them, this is her immune system getting stronger.’ “
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Evi was discharged around 1 p.m. and vomited a few hours later, so McCall took her to the pediatrician. “She threw up a lot there,” McCall Says. “The doctor looked pretty concerned and said, ‘You need to get her back to the emergency room right now.’ “
Back at Salem Health, doctors evaluated Evi again. According to McCall, they looked seriously for meningitis and did a spinal tap and other tests and concluded she had meningitis and sepsis. Evi was immediately transported to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
There, “they indicated pretty early on that they were concerned about her brain,” says McCall. “They told us that she had sepsis which was affecting her breathing and her heart and meningitis was potentially affecting her brain.” She died a day later.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Salem Health officials said, “This is a heartbreaking loss, and Salem Health offers its deepest condolences.”
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McCall says she wants to help other mothers avoid facing a similar tragedy. “That’s the only thing that can make this into something redeemable, is if someone else can be saved,” she says. “I want there to be changes to protocol, so women are given more information at early intervention points,” she says.
“When they told me I tested positive for strep B in pregnancy, they acted like it was no big deal, like there was nothing to worry about, as long as I got the antibiotic,” she says. “I wish at that moment they had warned me about the late onset possibility and told me what to look for. Another meaningful intervention point could be when they are dispensing antibiotics during labor, or after that as you leave the hospital with the baby.”
The knowledge is crucial, she says, since Group B strep symptoms come on so rapidly that infants become critically ill within just a day or two.
“From the minute we showed up at the ER the first time, every minute mattered,” she says.
And McCall and Quintero can’t stop thinking about every minute of Evi’s short life — and death. “We wanted to surround her with love, so we took her outside in the hospital courtyard so I could hold her as her father and two grandmothers surrounded her. I wanted her to be wrapped in loving arms, not covered in monitors and wires,” says McCall.
“We wanted her last moments to be under the open sky.”