Michigan Jury Awards $130M In Infant Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

A jury for Michigan’s Oakland County Circuit Court has awarded over $130 million in compensation to a young boy who suffered severe brain damage after visiting the hospital in 2006. In its verdict, the Detroit jury found that two nuclear medicine technologists at the William Beaumont Hospital had caused the plaintiff severe and irreparable harm 12 years ago. The boy now lives with cerebral palsy, Fox 2 reports.

Breath-Holding Spell Led To Cerebral Palsy, Jury Hears

In a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the minor plaintiff’s parents, attorneys for the boy say he went to William Beaumont Hospital in 2006, when he was just two months old. After multiple attempts to start an IV, the child plaintiff suffered a breath-holding spell; he stopped breathing in the face of pain and discomfort.

Breath-holding spells, or attacks, are fairly common in young children, according to WebMD, but they can be deeply disturbing to witness. Often caused by sudden pain or distress, a child can turn blue or pale, then faint, as a complex combination of reflex responses to discomfort alter his or her breathing rhythms.

Jury: Medical Techs Failed To Handle Spell Properly

But the two technologists made a mistake, the boy’s parents claim. As the family alleged in court documents, the two technicians failed to call a code blue, which would have summoned additional medics to the scene and is required by the standard of care when a patient has gone into cardiopulmonary arrest. The technicians also failed to give the child chest compressions, court records show.

Instead, the family claims, the technologists allowed the boy to languish without oxygen, leading to a “prolonged hypoxic ischemic insult” – deprived of oxygen, his brain cells began to die. The child suffered massive brain damage, ultimately leading to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, a family of severe neuromuscular disorders.

Finding that William Beaumont Hospital had committed negligence in the case, the Oakland County Circuit Court jury awarded the family a total of $130,571,897, much of which is intended to provide for the plaintiff child’s ongoing medical care. It is believed to be one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Michigan history.

“Nothing will ease the suffering of this child,” says Brian Mckeen, an attorney who represented the family, “but at least this settlement will alleviate some of the financial burden from his caretakers. I’m grateful for the jurors’ service and gratified they agreed that this was a preventable tragedy.”

What Are Breath-Holding Spells?

Most children grow out of them by the age of six or seven, but breath-holding spells can be terrifying for parents. Usually triggered by a moment of panic or physical pain, your child can stop breathing, turn blue or pale, and then faint. This is a breath-holding spell, and no one is sure exactly why it happens. Breath-holding spells often look like seizures, but usually there’s no underlying neurological problem. And most of the time, breath-holding spells are harmless.

The Two Types Of Breath-Holding Attacks

Breath-holding spells usually start with pain, anger or frustration, intense emotions that trigger a physiologic reaction. There are two types of breath-holding attacks: cyanotic spells and pallid spells.

Cyanotic spells are usually triggered by upset or frustration; your child will start to cry, exhale quickly, then stop breathing. The skin of his or her face will start to turn blue (especially around the lips) and she or he will pass out.

If your child has a pallid spell, she likely felt a sudden pain or shock. She may let out a cry of surprise, then stop breathing. The color will drain from her face and she’ll pass out.

What To Do

In either case, breath-holding spells are usually a temporary phenomenon. Your child will come to within a minute, maybe a little fatigued, but no worse for wear. Of course, when it’s happening, a breath-holding spell can be scary. Your child may lie limp on the floor, or arch her back, or convulse for a moment. Some children get sweaty, while others wet themselves.

Help your child by laying her on her side; this helps blood flow more quickly to the brain and could lead to a quicker recovery. If your child does not start breathing again after 1 minute, she may need immediate medical attention. Call 911. If the attack lasts longer than 3 minutes, administer CPR.

After your child’s first breath-holding spell, schedule a visit to your pediatrician for a check-up. In rare cases, you may be referred to a cardiologist or neurologist for further assessment. In most cases, breath-holding spells aren’t isolated incidents. If your child has one, they’ll probably have more. There’s no real treatment for these attacks, but your pediatrician can help you strategize ways to avoid trigger situations.

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