A state court judge in Illinois has awarded over $23 million in compensation to the family of a young girl who developed cerebral palsy after botched neonatal care, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Medical Negligence Led To Brain Damage, Judge Rules
Judge Kay Hanlon handed down her decision on Monday, May 8, 2017, concluding that Dr. Thomas Myers, a neonatologist at Palos Community Hospital, had been negligent in the care – or lack of care – he provided to the family’s daughter.
In her opinion, Judge Hanlon found that, while the girl had suffered massive blood loss during her delivery, it took nearly three hours for her to receive a full transfusion.
Experts now estimate that the child lost about 60% of her total blood supply, along with the vital oxygen that blood carries. She suffered severe brain damage as a result, leading to subsequent diagnoses of cerebral palsy and an associated epilepsy disorder.
Mother Quit Job To Care For Child
Now 5 years old, the girl “is reliant on someone [else] for every single bodily function in her daily life,” attorneys say. She is currently in occupational, physical and speech therapy. Her mother, a former program manager at Chicago children’s charity Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, was forced to quit her job to adequately care for her child.
In a cruel twist of irony, the mother had chosen Palos Community Hospital for her delivery because it advertised an on-site neonatologist. Giving birth at 38, she was considered a high-risk pregnancy. Having a specialist in premature and medically-complex newborns seemed like a good, if not necessary, idea.
What the family found in Dr. Thomas Myers, however, was a man capable of serious mistakes and lapses in judgment, according to the birth injury lawsuit they filed in 2014.
Massive Blood Loss During Delivery
The delivery, which occurred on June 21, 2011, began normally, but soon, the mother and a hospital nurse noticed that a pool of blood had collected on the bed. A fetal heart rate monitor could find no sign of the baby’s pulse, court documents state.
In line with these emergency circumstances, a Cesarean section was performed immediately and the child was delivered. The girl had no heartbeat for at least 21 minutes before she was delivered. She showed “no signs of life, according to the defense attorney who represented Dr. Myers at trial.
Physician Left Cell Phone, Pager At Hospital
The hospital’s staff kicked into high gear, struggling to reach Dr. Myers, who had left the facility shortly before the delivery began. Attorneys for the family say that multiple attempts were made to page and call Myers, but to no avail.
The physician’s lawyers, in later court documents, explained that, “for the first and only time in 41 years,” Myers had forgotten both his cellphone and his pager at the hospital. “Dr. Myers made no excuses for his one-time human failing,” his attorney said.
Eventually, one of the doctor’s co-workers was contacted and arrived shortly after. Myers’ associate ordered blood to perform a transfusion, but the initial delivery of plasma was inadequate. A second shipment of blood was delayed, the plaintiff’s attorney said. Myers was finally reached at his home, arriving at the hospital around 20 minutes later.
Nine Weeks In Intensive Care
The child was transferred to Advocate Children’s Hospital, a 20 minute drive from Palos. Doctors listed her in “guarded” condition, indicating an unclear prognosis requiring vigilance. She remained in the neonatal intensive care unit for nine weeks.
Medical tests revealed that the girl had suffered a fetal vessel rupture, or vasa previa, in which blood vessels from the placenta or umbilical cord come to cross the birth canal. The vessels can break open, leading to significant blood loss, when the cervix dilates or the amniotic sac ruptures, the International Vasa Previa Foundation reports.
Record Verdict In Birth Injury Bench Trial
Recent research suggests that some cases of cerebral palsy have a strong genetic component, but experts say that up to 10% can be attributed to brain damage that occurs during labor or delivery. In her decision, Judge Kay Hanlon held that Dr. Myers’ leaving his cellphone and pager at the hospital, and the inaccessibility that resulted from his forgetfulness, were enough to constitute medical negligence, making the physician legally responsible for the girl’s injuries.
While Judge Hanlon held that the Palos Heights medical facility had not itself acted negligently, the Court held the hospital liable for around $21 million of the $23 million judgment. The remaining $2 million will be paid by Myers, an employee of the Renaissance Medical Group, a medical practice based in Oak Lawn, Illinois that contracts with Palos Community Hospital to provide neonatology services.
The case is notable, not only for the award’s size, but also because it was held solely before a judge, rather than a jury. Attorneys for the girl’s family told the Chicago Tribune that $23 million in compensation is likely a record for birth injury lawsuits held as bench trials. The vast majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are heard instead by juries.