parents thwarted by coroner win surgical malpractice case

More than 10 years after the wrongful death of their 13-month-old son, a couple has won a medical malpractice lawsuit against a surgeon whose negligence resulted in the boy’s death. Their decade-long struggle pitted them against the Lake County, Indiana, coroner’s office, which refused to turn over evidence essential to their case.

The couple’s infant son suffered from an undescended testicle, a relatively common condition. On June 7, 2000, he was admitted to the hospital for a routine surgery to correct it. Less than two days after the surgery, he was dead.

The couple immediately suspected something had gone wrong during surgery, but the urologist denied it. A routine autopsy was performed, but the coroner’s office listed the cause of death as vascular collapse, cause undetermined.

“We needed somebody to tell us what happened to him,” the mother recently told the Times of Northwest Indiana. “Why? Why did he die like that? He couldn’t just die like that.”

Parents Struggled Against Stubborn System, Couldn’t Find an Attorney

The couple sought a medical malpractice attorney for two years, but each time ran into a major roadblock: evidence. Each law firm they contacted said they needed the photos the couple knew had been taken during the autopsy. Each time the couple contacted the local coroner’s office, the authorities denied that any photos had been taken.

Finally, the fourth medical malpractice lawyer they contacted agreed to find the answers. A second autopsy was performed by a Chicago-based private pathologist. He found that the blood flow to the boy’s testicle had been compromised during surgery, most likely by a misplaced suture. That had led to sepsis and ultimately to vascular collapse. The facts indicated surgical malpractice.

A second opinion by a pediatric urologist from Children’s Hospital Boston also suggested it was a surgical death caused by complications.

“It would be inconceivable to me that a healthy 13-month-old who has had surgery 36 hours before they die, dies of a totally unrelated cause, without being hit by a bus,” the pediatric urologist testified at trial.

On October 6, an Indiana jury awarded the family substantial damages. The defendant urologist says that he will appeal the case and insists he has done nothing wrong.

The boy’s mother says she can’t feel much relief in the face of her son’s death, but she urged other parents who suspect medical malpractice not to give up, but to continue pushing to find out what happened.

When parents are confronted with the tragedy of a child’s injury or death and suspect it could be the result of a doctor’s mistake, they often have one overriding desire: to find out what happened to their child. Whether in Indiana, Pennsylvania or anywhere in the United States, a parent’s need for honest answers is paramount. Time and again, medical malpractice lawsuits are brought simply because the medical establishment cannot or will not provide those answers.

“He was healthy. There was nothing wrong with him,” his father said. “No matter the outcome, we wanted to know what happened.”

Source: The Times of Northwest Indiana, “Bereaved mother’s quest for truth ends in $1.1 million jury award,” Susan Brown, October 25, 2010

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