Health Care

‘You can’t bring anyone back’: Hilton Head OBGYN sued for malpractice after infant death

Brianne Gurganus’ pregnancy was full-term when she went to Hilton Head Hospital with contractions.

She was 39 weeks along with a baby boy on July 16, 2016, and like any woman in the third trimester, she was ready to meet him.

A few days later, Gurganus underwent a total hysterectomy at age 25 — and never brought home her son, Phineas.

Gurganus and her husband, Christopher, are now suing her doctor, Dr. Katherine Coley, Advanced Women’s Care of the Lowcountry, and Hilton Head Hospital for malpractice and wrongful death, according to a lawsuit filed in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas.

Gurganus was pregnant with her second child on July 16 when she went to the hospital for contractions. According to the suit, she was discharged after “several hours of monitoring and assessment,” and scheduled for an induction of labor two days later.

When she came back for her induction on July 18, Gurganus presented with a fever of 99 degrees and pregnancy-induced hypertension, the suit says.

Antibiotics were ordered, but didn’t arrive until that evening as her baby was being delivered, according to the suit. When Gurganus delivered around 5 p.m., Phineas had a low heart rate and underwent 42 minutes of attempted resuscitation before he was declared deceased.

After her delivery, Gurganus developed several issues stemming from septic shock and was transferred to the intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina to be treated for blood clots, according to the suit.

There, she had a total hysterectomy.

Phineas’ autopsy showed that he died from chorioamnionitis — a bacterial infection in the womb — and funisitis — inflammation of the connective tissue in the umbilical cord.

The lawsuit

The malpractice suit cites an affidavit from Dr. Jeffrey Koren, a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says Dr. Coley and staff “deviated from the professional medical standard of care” by not recognizing questionable fetal heart tracing, failing to properly administer labor-inducing drugs and failing to administer antibiotics.

Dr. Koren also states in his affidavit that “earlier recognition and performance of a Cesarian section more likely than not would have resulted in a live baby.”

William Waring and Lionel Lofton of Charleston-based Lofton & Lofton, P.C. law firm are representing the Gurganus family.

Waring said Monday that malpractice suits rely on expert input by doctors in the field on the patient’s medical history and treatment rather than arguments by attorneys.

A medical malpractice suit does not necessarily threaten a medical license, Waring said.

“That issue is left up to the South Carolina board of medical licensing,” he said.

Dr. Coley has several positive patient reviews on sites such as, U.S. News and World Reports Health, and

Attorneys Chilton Simmons and Douglas Pratt-Thomas, who are representing Dr. Coley and Hilton Head Hospital, respectively, were both given opportunities to comment for this article. Neither returned calls on Monday.

The suit does not name a specific amount of damages, instead leaving that for a jury to decide.

“You can’t bring anyone back, but in our system this is a way to make the family as whole as they can be again,” Waring said.

Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.