I-Team: Nurses Linked to Sunrise Hospital Incidents Speak Out - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Nurses Linked to Sunrise Hospital Incidents Speak Out

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LAS VEGAS -- Some have suggested they are angels of death -- two nurses allegedly linked to a series of unexplained medical events at Sunrise Hospital. Although neither has been charged with a crime, they've endured months of suspicion, innuendo and finger-pointing in connection with the death of a premature infant. Accusations they've refused to address publicly, until now.

Sharon Reyes has been a nurse at Sunrise for 19 years. Jessica Rice has been there for four years. In their careers, they've cared for thousands of babies and they insist they have never intentionally harmed a single one.

For nearly 20 years, Reyes nurtured the tiniest of premature infants into the mightiest of babies as a nurse in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise.

"It's just my passion -- caring for people," she said.

During the last four of those years, a young nurse named Jessica Rice joined the staff. She and Reyes became acquainted as co-workers, until a medical emergency on a shared shift in May left them with more than their workplace in common.

"We are not the monsters they portrayed us to be. We are caring, nurturing people who have a passion for our field. There's just no words sometimes," said Reyes.

Reyes and Rice became the singular focus of an investigation into a series of so-called "catheter disruptions" in the NCIU dating back to December of 2009: 13 broken or snapped PICC lines, according to documents obtained by 8 News NOW, including one that migrated to a baby's heart requiring surgery, and one severed umbilical artery catheter, or UAC line, that the Clark County coroner determined caused the death of a premature infant.

To the nurses, 14 disruptions seems like a lot.

"I didn't realize until the media started going through things how many we had actually had on our unit. People knew we were having problems, but we didn't know to what extent," said Rice.

Internal hospital e-mails document concerns about PICC lines beginning in February. In March, the nurse educator writes she reviewed each case of PICC line snapping and clotting and found "no similarities in lot numbers or person who put in the line in place." She encourages the nurses to continue to track the issue and to save the lines for review.

Then in May, the injury of a baby in the NICU led the educator to question the product representative as to whether similar issues are occurring elsewhere.

"I think it's a manufacturer's defect, and I'm not the only one who thinks that either. There's multiple nurses in the unit who believe it was a problem with our PICC lines," said Reyes.

Formally, no one has accused Rice or Reyes of anything. Yet in July, the Nevada Nursing Board suspended their licenses when Las Vegas police named them as "persons of interest" in a criminal investigation of the incidents.

Two weeks later, Sunrise fired the pair, not based on any wrong-doing according to hospital records, but because based on the suspension, they failed to maintain an active nursing license.

"It's very frustrating. It's like this constant circle battle you can't get out of," said Rice.

"I figured I'd be back to work the next week, but that didn't happen," said Reyes.

Fearing for their livelihoods, the nurses hired attorneys and agreed, in cooperation with the Nursing Board, to voluntarily inactivate their licenses. But when a subpoena from the board to the hospital failed to uncover sufficient evidence, the board re-activated the nurses.

"If they had evidence of her wrong-doing, they would have produced it as the subpoena from the nursing board asked. And what they produced and what they provided was absolutely no evidence against Sharon Reyes," said attorney George Kelesis.

"There's a lot of innuendo being thrown around -- blame, finger-pointing. But when you look at what the evidence is, there's nothing to support it," said attorney Kathleen Murphy-Jones.

Although they are again licensed professionals, life remains far from normal for Rice and Reyes. The criminal investigation still looms and Sunrise, thus far, has refused to reinstate them.

"I would love, love to go back to work," said Rice.

Yet both remain optimistic they will soon return to their calling -- nurturing the tiniest of preemies into the mightiest of babies.

"I have nothing to hide. I'd walk in there with my head held high," said Reyes.

Both the Metro Police Department and Sunrise Hospital declined to be interviewed for this story. Sunrise did issue a written statement, noting it has fully cooperated with the on-going investigation of the incidents. It also points out that since the baby's death there have been no new incidents in its NICU.

Rice and Reyes say the incidents ended because Sunrise stopped using what they think were defective PICC lines at that time.

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