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Brooklyn Doctor Under Investigation in Sha-asia Washington’s Death During Childbirth

Sha-Asia Washington before dying while giving birth at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn.
Sha-Asia Washington before dying while giving birth at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn.
Juwan Lopez/Facebook

A former Woodhull Hospital anesthesiologist is under investigation by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct in connection with the death of Sha-asia Washington, who died during childbirth at the hospital last July at age 26.

In documents reviewed by THE CITY, the state board contends that Dr. Dmitry Anatolevich Shelchkov “deviated from medically acceptable standards” in administering an epidural to Washington. The board also found he “failed to appropriately administer” oxygen treatment after Washington reported difficulty breathing and didn’t maintain adequate records of her care.

Shelchkov, 60, is also under investigation by the board for his treatment of three other patients at the hospital last year, the same documents show. They include a 31-year-old woman on whom he allegedly “failed to administer anesthetic agents” during a C-section.

Washington is the only one of those patients who died, according to the documents.

The exterior of Woodhull Hospital at 760 Broadway in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Thursday, Apr. 29, 2021.
Woodhull Hospital in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

A spokesperson for the state Department of Health confirmed Thursday that Sholchkev’s license was suspended on March 2 and will remain so while the investigation is underway.

In Washington’s case, the board additionally contends that Shelchkov “concealed with intent to deceive” the details of his care of her. The board alleges he falsely reported in a December interview with the board that he did not administer other numbing agents after the epidural.

Washington, a paraprofessional described by friends as “a beautiful soul,” died shortly after delivering her daughter, Khloe, via emergency C-section at the city-run Bedford-Stuyvesant hospital on July 2.

Attempts to reach Sholchkev at phone numbers listed under his name were unsuccessful.

‘Carelessness Took Her’

News of Washington’s death, just three months after the childbirth fatality of Amber Rose Isaac in The Bronx, drew outrage citywide. Birth justice advocates pointed to deadly disparities in medical care experienced by Black women during pregnancy and delivery that leave them eight times likelier to die than white women in New York City.

Juwan Lopez, Washington’s partner, filed a lawsuit against the hospital and Shelchkov in November in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Sha-asia Washington and partner Juwan Lopez.
Sha-asia Washington and partner Juwan Lopez.
Sha-asia Washington/Facebook

Reached by phone, Lopez’s mother, Desiree Williams, said she’s not sure Shelchkov’s suspension “gives us justice — but it does give us peace that he can’t hurt anybody else.”

“I don’t think that we ever will feel that we received justice, because it was carelessness that took her away,” she added.

Jonah Bruno, a state Department of Health spokesperson, said in a statement that the agency “takes the health and safety of patients very seriously and swiftly investigates all allegations of professional misconduct, making referrals to law enforcement when warranted.”

Misconduct investigations like the one against Shelchkov can stem from complaints made by a patient’s friend or family, or from the physician’s colleagues or coworkers. The probes are led by the 18-physician Board for Professional Medical Conduct appointed by the state health commissioner.

Williams said the family was not aware that the investigation was underway until THE CITY informed them.

Never Held Her Baby

According to Lopez’ lawsuit, Washington reported difficulty breathing shortly after Shelchkov administered epidural anesthesia and other sedatives at 9:36 p.m. on July 3. The state board’s documents allege that Washington was “unresponsive and pulseless” three minutes later. Washington’s daughter, Khloe, was delivered via C-section at 9:45 p.m.

Washington “sustained several cardiac arrests” and was declared dead at 11:51 p.m., those same records show. Her death certificate, submitted as evidence in Lopez’s lawsuit, states her cause of death as “pending further study.”

Williams said that Lopez, still traumatized by Washington’s death, is “not able to speak” about her demise.

In an interview, Williams said that Lopez watched as clinicians wheeled Washington out of the operating room “doing chest compressions, like CPR,” on her as they took her to a separate room. Williams said that Lopez was not present in the operating room during the C-section.

Moments later, medical staff handed Khloe — born healthy — to Lopez. The family was informed of Washington’s death “about an hour later,” Williams told THE CITY.

“Sha-asia never got to hold the baby,” she said.

Demands for Justice

Lopez’s lawsuit seeks claims for “personal injury, wrongful death, and monetary damages.”

Lopez, his family and about 100 others staged a “Justice for Sha-asia” rally in front of Woodhull Hospital days after her death.

Desiree Williams, center, and Juwan Lopez, right, spoke at a Woodhull Hospital rally on Thursday to protest the death of their future daughter-in-law, Sha-asia Washington, July 9, 2020.
Desiree Williams, center, and Jose Lopez, right, spoke at a Woodhull Hospital rally on Thursday to protest the death of their future daughter-in-law, Sha-asia Washington, July 9, 2020.
Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

At the rally, Washington’s friend Jazmin Lopez — Juwan’s sister — recalled receiving a call from him announcing Washington’s death.

“I never thought I’d get a phone call from my brother and he’s holding his baby and they just told him that her heart has stopped,” she said tearfully at the rally. “How does your heart stop at 26?”

In a statement, Stephanie Guzmán, a city Health + Hospitals Corporation spokesperson, said that “NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull is committed to addressing the national crisis of high rates of maternal mortality, and we are undeterred in our mission to provide quality care for all New Yorkers.”

Birth justice advocates who’ve learned of the investigation into Shelchkov’s practices are relieved it’s underway, said Tia Dowling, a Brooklyn doula and founder of MeTooDoula Services.

“Oftentimes, I feel like there are these preventable deaths and there are these issues that come up, but it feels like this is some sort of accountability, which I’m excited about,” she said.

“Especially since the deaths of Amber Rose Isaac and Sha-asia Washington, the maternal mortality crisis in New York City has started to get some public traction and people are paying attention,” she added. “And there seems to be a lot more involvement and avenues available to be heard.”

‘That’s Her Mom’

Khloe — whose middle name is Sha-asia — is “a healthy and happy baby,” Williams said. The 9-month-old is learning to stand and her teeth are coming in, she said.

The family talks to her about Washington, Williams said. Khloe has a pillow with Washington’s face on it, and the family tells her that “that’s her mom.”

“We’ll ask her ‘Where’s mommy?’ and she’ll grab the pillow knowing that that’s her mom and she kisses it,” Williams said. “Every morning she wakes up and says ‘Hi’ to the pillow.”

“Just to see that she has to suffer like that, I just don’t feel that there ever will be justice,” she added. “No amount of money could ever bring Sha-asia back.”

Washington was a paraprofessional with the city Department of Education and lived in Canarsie in an apartment she shared with Lopez, Williams said. The pair had been together for two years at the time of Washington’s death.

Lopez had bought a ring and intended to propose to Washington the weekend after the birth. He wanted to wait until after the baby was born, Williams said, because he hoped that all three could be part of the celebration.

“She was so excited to be a mom. She did everything right,” Williams said. “I was very happy to be able to know her for the two years that I did. She was very free-spirited, she was very humble — she was caring.”

A mural honoring Washington was unveiled last September on Lewis Avenue and Monroe Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Lopez and his family were not there when the mural was unveiled, but went together several days later, Williams said.

She said she passes by the tribute often: “Every time I go there, I break down and cry.”

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