FMC Carswell

Baby Born By C-Section to Inmate Who Died of Coronavirus is ‘Doing Great,’ Family Says

'They don’t need to apologize now. It’s done,' baby's great grandmother says

andrea circle bear and her daughter
NBC 5 News/Rhonda Dupree

The baby girl born by emergency cesarean section in Fort Worth to an inmate on a ventilator who died of complications from COVID-19 is “doing great” and is now living with her great-grandmother out of state, according to family members.

The baby’s name is Elyciah. She was born April 1 at John Peter Smith Hospital while her mother, 30-year-old Andrea Circle Bear, was unconscious and attached to a ventilator.

“She likes to eat,” Circle Bear’s grandmother, Clara LeBeau, said of the baby. “She’s doing great.”

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LeBeau said she is raising her great-granddaughter at her home in Eagle Butte, South Dakota after driving 1,016 miles to pick her up at the hospital following her granddaughter's death.

“It’s starting all over again,” she said. “But I don’t mind.”

The child's mother arrived at Federal Medical Center Carswell, a federal prison that houses 1,600 female offenders with medical needs, on March 20 after being convicted on drug charges in South Dakota and sentenced on Jan. 14 to 26 months behind bars.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, she pleaded guilty to “maintaining a drug-involved premises” to distribute methamphetamine.

“Don’t let yourself or your property get mixed up in the world of illegal drugs,” said prosecutor Ron Parsons when Circle Bear's sentence was announced. “It ends badly.”

Circle Bear remained in jail in South Dakota until she was later transferred to Fort Worth. LeBeau said she spoke with Circle Bear on the phone soon after she arrived in North Texas.

“When she got there, she was crying and maybe afraid,” LeBeau said. “She said she was being quarantined for 14 days. I said, ‘Gosh, that’s a long time.’”

In a conversation in late March, LeBeau said Circle Bear told her that she was ill but nobody her seriously.

“She said, ‘I’ve been sick for four days. I’ve been trying to tell them,” LeBeau said. “Even then, they didn’t bother.”

Prison officials said they took her to JPS on March 28 and she returned to the prison later the same day.

When her conditioned worsened, she returned to the hospital four days later.

“They should have taken her (to the hospital) sooner,” LeBeau said. “She’s not the type to get sick and complain.”

Circle Bear died Tuesday, April 28, four weeks after Elyciah was born. The infant later tested negative for the virus.

LeBeau is upset that nobody in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons apologized to the family.

“You know, there’s a lot I could say about the system,” LeBeau said. “They really should have apologized. They should have kept me informed what was going on.”

Circle Bear was a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe and lived on the reservation, her family said.

Her aunt, Rhonda Dupree, said the funeral is tentatively set for Thursday.

“She was attending community college,” Dupree said. “She loved to bake. She made and would sell frybread, cinnamon rolls, yeast rolls, pies. She withdrew from school to take care of her babies.”

Family members said Circle Bear was a mother of five other children ages 1-10 and was healthy, but her pregnancy was considered high-risk because she had delivered all her children by C-section. Circle Bear's other children currently live with Circle Bear's father.

LeBeau said the last time she talked to her granddaughter was when a doctor at JPS arranged for a phone call before she was attached to a ventilator.

“She was afraid,” LeBeau said. “She was crying. I tried to comfort her. I prayed. I didn’t know it was that severe.”

LeBeau said the family is still trying to arrange to return Circle Bear’s body to South Dakota for burial.

“They don’t need to apologize now,” LeBeau said. “It’s done.”

An official of the union representing corrections officers at FMC Carswell filed a whistleblower complaint on April 7 alleging the Bureau of Prisons was taking a “cavalier approach” to the virus that put inmates and staff at risk, VICE News reported.

Circle Bear has been the only inmate at FMC Carswell to get COVID-19, the BOP said. More than 300 men inmates have tested positive and three have died at a separate facility, Federal Medical Center Fort Worth.

The BOP has said it is doing its best to stop the spread of the disease and is releasing some inmates early to home confinement.

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