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Poor Communication Causes Debilitating Brain Injury in 4-Year-Old

In one of the most tragic examples of medical malpractice reported recently, a 4-year-old girl with a heart defect was suffocated by cold medication at a Washington hospital in 2008, causing her a devastating brain injury. After nearly five years of litigation, a judge has ordered the hospital an unprecedented $15.2 million in damages to the now 8-year-old girl and her family.

According to reports, the girl was born in 2004 with a heart defect and was given a heart transplant as an infant. After the transplant, she had nearly caught up with her peers in terms of development. In 2008, however, her mother brought her to a local children’s hospital for cold symptoms.

She was seen by two cardiologists and, in a shocking case of miscommunication she was prescribed an inappropriate nasal spray that ended up blocking her breathing. The prolonged lack of oxygen caused a debilitating brain injury that turned the little girl from her brother’s giggling playmate to a girl who cannot walk, talk, or swallow on her own, and she will need 24-hour nursing care for the rest of her life.

Because of her preexisting heart condition, however, the hospital and its insurance company denied any responsibility for the tragedy. At trial, the hospital’s attorney admitted in his opening statement that the two cardiologists had made a mistake in prescribing the nasal spray. They simply denied that the effects of the nasal spray had been the reason the girl stopped breathing, or that their treatment mistake had caused the brain injury.

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After a three-week trial filled with expert medical testimony, the judge determined that the misprescribed nasal spray had indeed been responsible for the damage to little girl’s brain. According to the Seattle Times, the $15.2 million verdict is the largest on record in that state.

Source: Insurance Journal, “University of Washington to Pay $15M After Medical Mistake,” July 16, 2013