Doctor Testifies Pediatrician At Fault In Infant's Death

May 22, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A Washington doctor testified yesterday that a longtime county pediatrician did not do enough in his care of a baby boy who later died.

Dr. David Charles Abramson told a Carroll County jury that, in his opinion, Brett Morris was "basically allowed to suffocate to death over a long period of time" while he was in Carroll County General Hospital.

Abramson's comments came during the second day of testimony in Dr. Karl Green's appeal of a state malpractice court's decision that hewas negligent in his care of the infant son of Robert and Barbara Morris of Westminster.

In July, a three-member Maryland Health Arbitration Board in Sykesville awarded the Morrises $550,000 in damages.

Carroll County General Hospital also was named in the suit but wasnot found liable by the malpractice panel.

Green, a county pediatrician for more than 20 years, appealed the decision to Carroll Circuit Court.

Abramson, who was recognized as an expert in neonatal care at the hearing, testified on behalf of the Morrises.

According to court testimony, Brett was born at Carroll County General at 10 a.m. Sept. 21, 1986. He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces and had breathing problems.

The baby died 19 hours later, before his parents had a chance to hold him.

In her opening statement to the jury, the parents'attorney, LaVonna Vice of Baltimore, charged that Green failed to follow standard procedures of care for a baby suffering from acute breathing problems.

Vice said Green did not give the baby enough oxygen, that he misread a chest X-ray and that he wrongly allowed the babyto be fed formula.

The attorney said the medical examiner's report showed the baby had pneumomediastynum, a condition in which air collects outside the lungs, causing pressure and breathing difficulty.

It can be treated with oxygen and by inserting a needle into the baby's chest to remove the air outside the lungs.

Vice also contendsthat the nurses in the newborn nursery did not do their job when they failed to call Green when the baby's condition worsened at 11:30 p.m.

Robert Morgan, attorney for the hospital, contends that the baby appeared to be improving until then and that the nurses had no reason to be alarmed until 2:20 a.m. when the baby showed signs of respiratory distress.

Green and his attorney, Michael Baxter of Baltimore, dispute the parents' version of events and claim the baby died of "persistent fetal circulation," in which the baby has difficulty adjusting to breathing outside the womb.

The prognosis for babies withuntreated acute persistent fetal circulation is very poor.

Abramson testified that Green did not do enough for the baby to prevent thepneumomediastynum from getting worse.

He should have given the child 100 percent oxygen and refrained from feeding him formula, Abramson said.

Abramson also criticized the nurses for not calling the doctor to the hospital sooner.

Baxter and Morgan tried to discreditAbramson by attacking his credentials.

Baxter accused him of being a hired gun that has testified against "hundreds of doctors and health-care providers."

Abramson confirmed that during the 25 years he has reviewed malpractice cases and testified in court, he has earned more than $1 million for his time.

On Monday, Barbara Morris took the stand and told the jury how her doctor said in 1985 that he didnot think she could get pregnant a second time. She said she could not accept that news.

So when she and her husband found out she waspregnant again, they were thrilled. Their other child, a daughter, was 8 at the time, she said.

Barbara Morris said she had an "uneventful pregnancy and a pretty smooth labor." The real problems came after the delivery, she said.

She remained calm during most of her testimony. But her voice broke when she began talking about how she andher husband were especially thrilled when they learned the baby was a boy.

"We had picked out the name Brett Andrew in advance," she sobbed. "But when we went by the nursery I told Bob we could still make him a junior if he wanted to."

She said she felt "hopeless" whenshe saw the baby grunting and gasping for breath early the next morning.

"He was bad. He was dying," she said.

Barbara Morris told the jury the first time she and her husband got to hold the baby was moments after he died.

Testimony is scheduled to continue today before Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold.

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