Terrified, Deanna Wise lay in a hospital bed and prayed.
Her doctor, a specialist concerned with the care of the mother and fetus in high-risk pregnancies, had told her to get to St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus, immediately.
"All these people, doctors and nurses -- I could hear them as I was lying there saying I might not make it and the baby may not make it," she said, recounting the January 2006 experience. "They were afraid I'd hemorrhage during delivery. The anesthesiologist didn't even want to give me an epidural because I might start bleeding and they couldn't stop it."
In the midst of conversations with doctors about how they might treat her increased risk of bleeding, Wise fielded a question that caught her off guard from Dr. Ralph Conti, the physician slated to be the pediatrician for her newborn.
"He wanted to know if he could have my placenta," she recalled Friday as she sat in the living room of her east Las Vegas home. "I was crying, and it kind of came out of nowhere, but he said I could donate it for research. He said he was going to use the stem cells from it to help conquer Alzheimer's and other diseases in people. I'm an organ donor and always want to help people, so I said sure.
"Now that I look back, it was kind of a strange question at the time."
The more Wise thought Friday about Conti and his legal troubles -- he was indicted Wednesday on federal conspiracy and fraud charges -- the more upset she became.
"I really thought he cared about people," she said. "Now I don't know, but I still wish him the best. He was good with my kids.
"I bet a lot of his patients are as confused as I am."
Conti, who was listed earlier this year as one of the top doctors in the valley by Las Vegas Life magazine, on Wednesday was charged with participating in a scheme to defraud investors and chronically ill patients through the use of experimental stem cell implant procedures. The federal government has asked him and another defendant in the case, Alfred Sapse, to forfeit nearly $1 million and whatever property derived from the scheme to the federal government.
Conti refused to answer questions Friday, but Cheryl Persinger of B&P Advertising Media Public Relations, released a statement on his behalf:
"Dr. Ralph Conti continues to work to resolve this issue. The matter relates to events that occurred five years ago and is unrelated to the pediatric medical practice he has operated successfully in Las Vegas for more than 20 years. Dr. Conti has cooperated with authorities and believes the facts of the case will unfold in a different fashion. Dr. Conti looks forward to resolving this matter in court and will have no further comment."
Wise, who delivered a healthy baby after having a C-section from which she has fully recovered, said Conti never told her how her placenta was used.
"I didn't think he was going to put any of it in anybody else," she said. "I thought he was going to study it."
The indictment alleges Conti injected stem cells -- which are harvested from placentas -- "knowing they would not benefit the patients."
Conti's partner Sapse said Thursday in an interview that the pediatrician would regularly pick up placentas from the labor and delivery room at St. Rose Siena. In a statement released Thursday, a St. Rose publicist said the hospital was unaware of patients' placentas being taken from the hospital by medical practitioners for use elsewhere. Hospital policy does not allow the practice, the statement said.
Sapse said Conti then would take tissue from the placentas and perform the implantations at his office adjacent to the hospital.
"He would wash the placentas first," said Sapse, who added that he often watched the pediatrician do the injections on adults.
The injections caused infections in some of the people who were seeking cures for diseases, according to the indictment. Sapse said the patients were generally individuals seeking cures for Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Conti's procuring of placentas at the Catholic hospital should have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and then by a hospital review board, according to a hospital administrator not connected with St. Rose Dominican Hospitals.
In a warning letter to Conti from the FDA before his indictment, Bhanu Kannan, of the FDA's Division of Inspections and Surveillance, wrote that the pediatrician violated "applicable regulations governing the proper conduct of clinical studies involving investigational new drugs."
The letter said that Conti "did not register with the FDA"... "did not maintain records about ... each subject's procedure," nor "did he establish and maintain procedures for all steps to be performed in testing, screening and determining donor eligibility."
Despite the fact there is no evidence that the implantations Conti made in patients helped them, Wise is still hopeful.
"I don't want to think that Dr. Conti was just concerned with making more money; I want to think that he was trying to do good and maybe got mixed up with the wrong people," she said. "If I had to do it all over again, I'd still donate my placenta. If you want to help people, you have to have trust in somebody."
Given that Conti is accused of making money off injections of stem cells -- some of which may have come from her placenta -- Wise can't help but think about how the pediatrician stopped seeing her two young sons.
"Because I owed $100, I was not allowed to bring my sons to see him any more," she said. "If he was making money off my placenta, you would have thought he still would have seen my kids."
Wise said she left the doctor a voice mail pleading with him to help her, but he refused to return the phone calls.
"He must have really had some money concerns," she said.
Court records show that Foothills Pediatrics, a limited liability corporation managed by Conti in Henderson, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 27.
Attorney Lenard Schwartzer, who is representing Foothills Pediatrics in the bankruptcy proceedings, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Dr. Michael Rosenman is listed as the largest creditor on the bankruptcy petition. According to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records, a $328,000 judgment was entered in Rosenman's favor on July 6 in Clark County District Court. The judgment was entered against Conti, Foothills Pediatrics, Ralph Conti Trust and Raconti Limited Liability Limited Partnership.
Rosenman's attorney, John Muije, could not be reached for comment Friday.
One recent court document prepared for Foothills Pediatrics describes Raconti as a Texas limited liability limited partnership created by Conti "for the purpose of sharing the profits of Foothills with Rosenman under a now terminated agreement."
According to the document, Foothills operates six pediatric medical offices in Clark County and employs eight doctors.