Parents in Illinois recently accepted a $30 million settlement for their child who was the subject of dozens of experimental surgeries, that last of which resulted in brain damage and cerebral palsy in the now 6-year old boy.
Ezequiel Chavez was born with esophageal atresia, a congenital defect that causes developmental problems with the esophagus. Esophageal atresia occurs in about 1 out of every 4,000 infants and usually causes the esophagus to form into two separate pieces instead of one long tube.
Most cases of esophageal atresia, including Chavez's case, are serious but not life-threatening and are surgically treated soon after birth. But this was not the case for Chavez. Dr. Mark Holterman, Chavez's doctor, performed 25 total surgeries on the child in 17 months when, in 2011, he punctured the child's pulmonary artery.
Dr. Holterman first performed surgery the day after the Chavez was born and proceeded to operate 24 more times over the next 17 months. In these surgeries, Holterman inserted and replaced a stent in the boy's esophagus, a treatment method that remains unproven. In the final surgery, the doctor used a stunting device on the esophagus in an off-label usage of the device. The device punctured Chavez's pulmonary artery causing permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy.
The malpractice claim alleged that the hospital was negligent in allowing Dr. Holterman to continue down such a risky treatment path. The claim also focused on the second surgery performed on the boy, months after his birth, where the doctor initiated a series of surgeries by inserting a stent which eventually led to a punctured artery.
Medical studies have found the cost of lifetime care for a child with cerebral palsy is upwards of $1 million. This figure does not include lost wages, out of pocket expenses, or more severe debilitations. The $30 million settlement is the 4th largest in the history of the state for medical malpractice involving a child.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects the part of the brain which controls movement and motor skills, and also results in reduced muscle tone. About 10,000 children develop cerebral palsy each year in the United States, often as a result of a birth or other medical injury by a doctor. It is often caused by a failure to monitor the blood oxygen level of the baby or mother before birth, or can be caused by:
- Failure to respond quickly to fetal distress
- Failure to perform a timely C-section
- Failure to quickly treat bleeding in the infant's brain
- Failure to administer Pitocin
Doctors are supposed to treat patients, not experiment on them, and doctors that work with children should strive to provide the least invasive treatment procedures possible to reduce risk and increase the child's chances of recovery. Dr. Holderman failed to do both and left a one and a half-year-old boy with severe brain damage.
If you are worried that your doctor is providing experimental or otherwise risky treatments, talk to your doctor and hospital managers about the procedure, and get a second opinion. Read more about risky 'cowboy doctor' behavior.