16.5 m awarded to family of baby brain damaged at hospital
HONOLULU — A minute into Izzy Peterson’s life, a doctor administered what she believed to be oxygen to give the newborn’s breathing a boost. But for 41 minutes, Izzy was accidentally given carbon dioxide, which slowly ate away at his life.
Izzy, born healthy on Jan. 14, 2005, is now silent with severe brain damage. He breathes through a tube in his neck and eats through another connected to his stomach. The 1 year old requires around-the-clock nursing care at his home in San Antonio and is expected to die before he turns 30.
Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra on Thursday ruled the federal government must pay the boy’s family $16.5 million in damages, which is believed to be the largest verdict for a single person in a personal injury case in Hawaii.
“It’s an unbelievable tragedy,” said Rick Fried, the family’s attorney. “His brain has been wiped out by the carbon dioxide.”
The mishap has prompted the Department of Defense to issue an alert to its hospitals worldwide advising them to take immediate steps to prevent similar incidents.
Maj. Gen. Carla Hawley-Bowland said the hospital “accepts responsibility for this tragic incident and respects the decision” by the judge.
“Our command and well-trained staff are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure an incident similar to this never happens again, such as improvements in medical gas safety,” she said in a statement.
Tripler spokeswoman Mindy Anderson said she would have to investigate whether Maj. Danielle Bird, the doctor who gave the newborn the carbon dioxide, was still at the facility and delivering babies.
Izzy was conceived by in-vitro fertilization to Army Staff Sgt. Dwight and Shalay Peterson after two failed in-vitro attempts.
The couple filed a malpractice suit and with the government’s admission of fault, the trial that began Aug. 15 focused solely on how much in damages should be awarded.
The $16.5 million award includes $12.4 million in future life care expenses and $1.5 million for loss of future income and benefits.
Fried, who will take a quarter of the award for legal fees, said he thought the verdict was fair and that the family was relieved that the legal dispute is behind them.
The government previously offered $7 million to settle the case, Fried said.
Izzy, meanwhile, is growing and his organs are operating perfectly. He has curly brown hair, long eyelashes and a blank stare. Izzy is not considered brain dead because he still feels pain and responds to his parents.
“It’s unbelievable he survived,” Fried said. “He was basically without oxygen for 40 minutes.”
Photos of the carbon dioxide tank that supplied the lethal gas to Izzy shows it has much different labeling and regulator than an oxygen container. There was no oxygen tank in the room.
“They never looked,” said Fried, who called the accident “gross negligence.”
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Izzy was born with a normal Apgar (activity, pulse, grimace, appearance and respiration) score, which is a test designed to quickly evaluate a newborn’s physical condition and to determine any immediate need for extra medical care. But early on, the hospital tried to say Izzy was born with health problems, until officials were shown a videotape of the birth, Fried said.
Bird was never deposed or publicly stated how the mix-up happened. She has never apologized to the family, Fried said.
The previous largest malpractice judgment against Tripler came in 1997 when a family of a baby who suffered brain damage because of negligent care was awarded $11.3 million. With interest, the government eventually paid about $12.5 million.
On the Net:
Tripler Army Medical Center: http://www.tamc.amedd.army.mil/
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