Practice Areas

Couple says mistake at Tripler put their newborn son in coma

March 3, 2005

BY JAMES GONSER, Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

For the rest of his life, newborn Islam Yasim Ibn Siddiq will depend on machines to keep him alive.

According to a lawyer for his family, staff at Tripler Army Medical Center gave the baby carbon dioxide instead of oxygen immediately after his birth, sending him into a coma.

Born at 8:10 a.m. Jan. 14, the baby received the gas for 42 minutes before staff noticed what happened, said attorney Rick Fried. The baby, whose Arabic name means "one who submits to the will of God," will need 24-hour care for as long as he lives. But his parents, Dwight and Shalay Peterson, are committed to giving him the best life possible under the circumstances.

"It didn't have to happen, which is the worst part," said Dwight Peterson, an Army sergeant, at a news conference at Fried's office yesterday. "Our lives have been altered in a way that it can never be fixed." Public affairs specialist Leslie Ozawa said hospital officials would make no comment on liability or fault. But the hospital did release a statement saying the staff offers the Peterson family its "heartfelt condolences."

"There is an enormous sense of sorrow among the staff, and our hearts go out to the family as we grieve with them," the statement read. "We are currently in the process of investigating the incident, and do not discuss ongoing investigations. "We are gathering all the information and facts, and have taken immediate corrective action. Our focus at this time is to continue support for the family anyway we can. We are very sorry this happened." The Petersons were high school sweethearts in Philadelphia. They married and already had three children, two boys, 15 and 9, and a girl, 10, when they decided to have one more child.

They tried in-vitro fertilization three times before they were successful. Dwight Peterson, 31, was serving in Afghanistan when he called his wife in April and she gave him the good news. "It was the first time we were having a baby where we were finally in a nice place and doing well," said Shalay Peterson, 30, who works as a medical assistant. "He is in the military, and I have a really good job I love. This was the new baby, the new life in our family."

Then her husband, who is assigned to the 325th Forward Support Battalion, was injured when a vehicle part fell and hit his shoulder, breaking a bone and tearing cartilage. He was flown to Tripler for surgery and could be home for the birth of his third son. At first, everything went well with the birth, a scheduled Caesarean section. The proud father was even videotaping the birth when the couple learned something was going wrong. Fried said staff had decided to give the baby oxygen to help him breathe after delivery.

"Everything was perfect. The delivery was perfect," Shalay Peterson said. "Right after birth, I remember lying there and the drape was up so I couldn't see what was going on and I just started hearing things. Working in a doctor's office, (I recognized) things that didn't sound normal. I knew something had gone wrong but I couldn't see because of the drape."

She said she "got a little bit hysterical" and was given a sedative. Her husband went to her side and let the doctors work on the child. Only when the hospital staff decided to hook up a fresh oxygen tank did they notice the mistake, Fried said. When Shalay Peterson woke up, "Izzy" was in intensive care. "I still did not realize what had happened or the severity," she said. "I still thought he was going to wake up and everything was going to be OK."

She said the doctors acknow-ledged what had happened right away and have given their baby the best of care following the accident, but that doesn't change anything. "They said it won't happen again," she said fighting back tears. "That they are making changes in how oxygen is delivered, maybe from the wall instead of a tank. Of course, I wouldn't want anybody else to go through..what we went through. But it is too late for my baby." The couple, who live at the Äliamanu Military Reservation, converted to Islam years ago. They say their faith and prayers are getting them through this difficult time.

"All we can do is pray," Shalay said. "There is nothing the doctors can do. We pray and hope for a miracle. It was a miracle that after 42 minutes of being suffocated, he is still here. It is only by the grace of God that he is still here." The Food and Drug Administration keeps track of similar incidents, Fried said, and in the past four years seven people have been killed and 15 injured when they were given another gas that was thought to be oxygen.

Fried has filed a formal claim with the Army for damages, a necessary step before a lawsuit may be filed, and the government has six months to reject or accept the claim. The major issue now is getting the proper care for the child for the rest of his life, he said. Costs could reach into the millions, he said. "As far as we can tell, he is a totally normal little child that has been just devastated and will need around-the-clock care and could well live a very long time," Fried said.