A woman charged with removing her baby daughter from a Pennsylvania hospital against doctor's orders says she was just trying to do right by the baby, who needed special treatment for a heart defect.
On Friday, April Saul, 42, told NBC10's Doug Shimell that on October 23, she and fiancé Danny Rivera, 43, unhooked their 3-month-old daughter Aralynn, who has Downs Syndrome and multiple heart defects, from monitors at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown and stormed out -- against the wishes of the doctors.
Saul says they felt leaving was their only option after the hospital repeatedly refused her request to transfer her daughter to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for treatment for her defects.
"All we wanted was the best, optimum healthcare for our daughter," Saul told NBC10. "We were just desperate to get our child where we needed her to be."
Saul said she and Rivera had begged Lehigh Valley for a transfer to Children's Hospital, but officials at the Allentown facility refused, telling her Medicaid wouldn't pay for it. She contends the hospital was "uncooperative" and never formally asked for a transfer.
"Danny and I pled, in meeting after meeting with Lehigh Valley, for months," Saul said. "We kept saying, 'We feel as though you lack expertise. We feel as though our child has issues you can't address. We want her transferred. What do we have to do to get our baby transferred?' For months we were just getting the runaround."
Hospital staff, Rivera says, were physically trying to keep the parents from leaving the premise.
"They were pushing us, they were holding us, she had the baby in her hands. They saw that. They kept pushing her and grabbing onto her," Rivera said. "At one point, the baby hit her head on the elevator door."
They managed to leave the building, but were stopped by police in Allentown and who brought Aralynn back to Lehigh Valley.
Now, the couple is facing multiple charges for doing what they say was best for their baby girl.
"We did what we did for the love of Aralynn," Saul told NBC10.
District Attorney Jim Martin called Saul's account of the story "nonsense," saying Lehigh Valley had been in touch with Children's Hospital and that they had indicated her daughter wasn't medically ready for transfer. He noted that Aralynn had suffered episodes in which she had stopped breathing as recently as a few days before the couple took her.
"It was a pretty clear-cut case of two parents who just didn't act reasonably," Martin said. "Whether they were well-intentioned or not does not really matter as far as I'm concerned."
Lehigh Valley Hospital has said it was obligated by state law to report Saul and Rivera to civil authorities once they ignored medical advice and removed their "medically unstable" daughter.
Saul said she never would have placed her child in danger. She said Aralynn was breathing on her own and wasn't hooked up to an oxygen machine or an IV pole when they left with her, intending to go straight to CHOP.
"We felt like we were backed into a corner, we had no recourse and we were given no other option," Saul said. "We are Aralynn's advocates. If we don't advocate for optimum health care for her, who will? That's a parent's responsibility."
Saul and Rivera, of Pottstown, face a Friday preliminary hearing on charges of endangering the welfare of children and disorderly conduct, misdemeanors. Saul said they'll fight the charges.
"We're going to fight this until the end because we didn't do anything wrong," Rivera attests.