How Infant Formula Caused the Death of Lillian Peebles

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Lillian Peebles was born on June 21, 2009, via emergency C-section at 25 weeks. The hospital staff fed Lillian a combination of Enfamil and breast milk, not knowing that the cows-milk-based formula caused necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

Lillian became seriously ill and died on July 20, 2009. She was 29 days old.

Desiree and William Peebles, Lillian’s parents, told Lillian’s story to Steve Murphy, Executive Producer and Host of Insider Exclusive, in his program, “Justice in America – Toxic Baby Formulas – What You Need to Know.”

Baby Lillian’s Story

“She was a little bit of a surprise but a blessing,” William told Steve Murphy, Executive Producer and Host of Insider Exclusive, in his program, “Justice in America – Toxic Baby Formulas – What You Need to Know.”

Unfortunately, Lillian’s digestive system was not completely intact when she was born. But Desiree, Lillian’s mother, said, “She was a fighter, like the rest of my children.”

Lillian was doing well on the breast milk, which was “thick and plentiful,” Desiree explained. The infant had gained two pounds–but then she took a turn for the worse. “She was doing so good,” Desiree said, “then all of a sudden, she wasn’t.

The medical team conducted an exploratory surgery but could not do anything to help Baby Lillian. “Two days later, she was gone,” William recalled.

What Desiree and William did not know at the time was that the medical team had decided they wanted Lillian to gain weight faster, so they began adding a fortifier to Desiree’s breast milk.

The product’s manufacturers knew there was a chance the formula would cause NEC—but they did nothing to inform Lillian’s parents of this risk. “Had we known, we probably would have rejected [the formula or asked them not to [use] it,” William said. “If we had made a different decision, she would be here today.”

A Mother’s Guilt

Sadly, and not uncommon to mothers in similar situations, Desiree blamed herself.

“I quit caring about what I looked like, I quit caring about my health,” she said. “I concentrated on everyone else around me, trying to make sure they were healthy and safe.”

Desiree stopped blaming herself when she learned that Lillian’s NEC was caused by the Enfamil she was fed in the hospital.

Now, she has a message for other parents who have endured the illness or loss of a premature infant who developed NEC after consuming this baby formula: “It wasn’t them. It was the baby formula.”

Sara Papantonio, attorney at Levin Papantonio Rafferty, is representing the Peebles and other families who have suffered from infant-formula-caused NEC in their pursuit of justice.

“Lillian Peebles is an example of a death that could have been prevented,” Sara said in her Insider Exclusive interview. “It’s a wrongdoing by a corporation who for years and years and years failed to acknowledge the risk associated with their product and the infant population of premature infants.”

Overwhelming Evidence Dating Back Decades

Papantonio has scientific evidence that links NEC to cows-milk-based-formula-fed babies. This research includes decades’ worth of medical studies, including a 1990 study published in The Lancet, studies published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 2000 and later in 2013, and a 2012 study published in Pediatric Research.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” Papantonio said.

Consider these additional facts:

  1. Similac and Enfamil funded “biased and unreliable” clinical product trials that downplayed health risks. (British Medical Journal)
  2. Around 80% of baby formula products use cow’s milk. (National Public Radio (NPR)
  3. Premature infants have underdeveloped digestive systems, increasing the risk of NEC. (Breastfeeding Medicine medical journal)
  4. NEC kills up to 50% of infants who develop the disorder. (Pediatrics Nationwide)
  5. Almost 50% of those who survive NEC develop “significant developmental and cognitive disability.” (Pediatrics Nationwide)

“For years, these companies knew or should have known that there is an increased risk that could be up to tenfold,” Papantonio said.

The Risk of Death or Lifelong Injuries

Outside of potential death, affected babies could suffer “horrific injuries,” according to Papantonio. The medical solution to some of the resulting health complications involves cutting out portions of the small intestine. This creates serious issues with digestion development.

“You have adults who survived, but who have suffered long-term gut issues and short-term bowel issues that cause serious problems in their long-term life,” Papantonio said.

Fighting for Justice and Change

Levin Papantonio Rafferty law firm is representing the Peebles family, along with other families whom manufacturers put at risk for the sake of profit. Besides bringing justice to these families, Papantonio and other members of her legal team hope that baby formula multidistrict litigation will prompt stricter regulations for products consumed by infants, toddlers, and young children.

“It’s up to these companies—Abbott and Mead Pharmaceuticals—to develop a product that is safe for these pre-term infants,” Sara said, “and right now, they haven’t done that.” These companies could have created a safer product as far back as 2004, Papantonio added. “So why haven’t they done it now?”

“They could have done it in the beginning, and they could have prevented the deaths of infants like Lillian Peebles,” Papantonio said.

This lawsuit currently exists as a mass action, as thousands of infants have been affected by manufacturers’ cows-milk-based formulas. The cases have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois and are being tried in front of a federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.