Born in Combat: Diagnosing pregnancy when test results are in doubt

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Doctors say over-the-counter pregnancy tests are fairly reliable.

In fact the same types are commonly used in their clinics.

So why were 5-confirmed positive tests disregarded for an Indiana soldier, who was deployed to Afghanistan where she ended up giving birth in combat?

13 Investigates Reporter, Sandra Chapman sat down with one local doctor to discuss what to look for when there's doubt about a pregnancy test

You've seen the over-the-counter tests.

One symbol means you're pregnant, another means you're not. It's all based on hormone levels.

Pvt. Ashley Shelton just got copies of her military pregnancy tests. The medical records show multiple positive urine tests over a 9-week period.

But an Army doctor in charge of her deployment dismissed the results and sent her into a war zone.

Three months later she gave birth to a baby boy.

How was her pregnancy missed?

13 Investigates asked Dr. James Perry, a longtime obstetrician and gynecologist at Community Hospital, about diagnosing pregnancy from the mundane to more complicated cases. Dr. Perry has never met nor examined Shelton and cannot say what was or wasn't appropriate in her care.

Speaking from 25 years of experience, Dr. Perry says high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG, the hormone unique to early pregnancy, is generally a first indicator.

"The hCG level in early pregnancy is going to double roughly every 50 to 55 hours. So it's going to increase exponentially," he explained.

That's exactly what happened in Pvt. Shelton's case. But according to medical records, Shelton was on birth control and her monthly cycle was light.

"Things don't always read textbook," said Perry who has seen his share of questions relating to pregnancy. He says if there is doubt even with high hCG levels, a blood test can provide an even more accurate screening.

In Shelton's case, the blood sample taken just weeks before she shipped out came back positive too.

But medical records show the Army doctor was convinced Shelton was not pregnant and instead wrote that she was exposed to mice in Indiana, and that created a false positive.

Dr. Perry says he's not personally aware of any false positives involving mice and human anti-mouse antibodies.

"Everyone is a little different, and in the scope of human variation there are going to be outliers to all of these. There are going to be unusual cases," Perry told 13 Investigates.

Still he says there are proven methods to determine pregnancy.

"There's blood test, there's ultrasound, and it's not a static situation it's going to declare itself eventually," he said.

In Shelton's case, the reality of her pregnancy became clear in the middle of a war zone.

13 Investigates reached out to the doctor who made the call. That doctor's name is Jonathan Richard Coyle.

Dr. Coyle did not respond to our messages, so we set out to find him tracking his work from the mountains of Afghanistan to the western base of the Rockies.

On 13 Eyewitness News at 6, 13 Investigates goes in search of answers. See where our team went and what 13 Investigates discovered.

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