Kadlec Regional Medical Center on Friday was ordered to pay a West Richland couple more than $257,000 in a malpractice lawsuit involving a 4-inch-long piece of plastic tubing left inside their 19-inch-long premature baby.
A jury Nov. 24 unanimously found the hospital had been negligent in the incident. But only one jury member found negligence on the part of neonatologist Dr. Miriam Zaragoza, whom the suit alleges decided to leave the plastic inside the baby for an additional day after its discovery without informing the infant's parents.
Kadlec spokesman Jim Hall issued a brief statement about the case after the judgment Friday and said the hospital was disappointed with it. He added, "We're glad the child is healthy today and is showing no lingering effects from the unfortunate mishap that occurred two years ago."
Parents Joseph and Heather Cooper filed the suit in November 2009, claiming employees in Kadlec's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit had covered up the October 2008 incident.
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Khail Cooper was born at Kadlec on Oct. 23, 2008 -- about six weeks early -- and had underdeveloped lungs, his mother said Friday.
She said Khail was having trouble breathing, so he was moved into the NICU and given a drug to help him breathe.
The drug was administered through a tube that was inserted and then immediately removed. But the Coopers say when the drug was administered again Oct. 24, a respiratory therapist pushed the tube into Khail's lung, where it bent and broke.
John Schultz, attorney for the Coopers, said no one realized the 4-inch plastic tube was inside Khail until Oct. 26, when a radiologist spotted a foreign object on an X-ray.
Cooper said a different radiologist had failed to spot the tube on Khail's X-ray the previous day.
The baby was getting daily X-rays to track the development of his lungs, which were just over 2 inches long, she said.
Schultz said the radiologist who spotted the object told Zaragoza, who decided to wait another day to take any action, although it was disputed at the trial who gave the direction to wait.
"Meanwhile, my child was writhing in pain," Cooper said. "He was fighting for hours and hours and hours."
Khail wouldn't eat or sleep, and scratched at his chest while panting up to 120 times per minute, she said.
"He was working really hard to breathe," she said, collapsing into tears at the memory of her son's struggle.
Schultz said Dr. Anthony Hadeed, the NICU's medical director, was on duty the next day rather than Zaragoza. Hadeed reportedly was told about the tube lodged in the baby's chest and leaped into action.
"Within an hour, the mother and baby were on their way to Seattle," Schultz said.
Khail was flown to Seattle on a jet and rushed into surgery at Seattle Children's Hospital, where he spent about a week, Cooper said.
Schultz said Heather Cooper's father, longtime local physician Dr. Ray Kania, testified at the trial that Hadeed's quick response and the care Khail received at Seattle Children's saved the baby's life.
Cooper said Khail appears to be a healthy toddler now, but the extent of the damage done to his lungs is unknown and it would take invasive exploratory surgery to find out.
"There is no way I'm putting my child under (anesthesia) just to check," she said.
Khail will have to visit a pediatric pulmonologist in Spokane once every 18 months to make sure his lungs are OK. The jury awarded $2,400 to cover those medical costs.
The jury also awarded about $37,000 to reimburse Group Health for medical expenses paid by the Coopers' insurance policy to Seattle Children's, $7,804 for other costs the Coopers incurred, and $210,000 for noneconomic damages including pain and suffering.
Cooper said she is thankful Khail will have a college fund as a result of the lawsuit, but what she would really like is an apology.
"They have never apologized for this," she said. "We heard a lot of excuses. We heard excuses for two years long. ... They never said, 'We made a mistake here and we need to do some things to correct this.' "
Hall said the hospital conducts a thorough review any time an incident like this happens, but he didn't have details about any review of Khail's case or whether the hospital established any new policies afterward.