Expert Witness Testifies That Pediatrician Did Right

Doctor Appeals Malpractice Ruling In Death

June 02, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A Baltimore doctor testified last week that a longtime county pediatrician followed accepted standards of care in his treatment of a babyboy who died shortly after birth in 1986.

Dr. Frederick Heldrich,chairman of pediatrics at St. Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore for 21 years, told the Carroll jury of eight men and four women that in his opinion, "everything was appropriate in Dr. (Karl) Green's care of Brett Morris."

Heldrich's comments came during the second week of testimony in Green's appeal of a state malpractice court's decision that he was negligent in his care of the infant son of Robert and Barbara Morris of Westminster.

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

Carroll County General Hospital also was named in the suit, but was not found liable by the arbitration board.

Green, the first pediatrician at thecounty hospital, is appealing the decision in Carroll Circuit Court.

Heldrich was the latest in a string of dueling medical experts testifying on behalf of Green, the Morrises or the hospital.

Heldrich, who was recognized as a specialist in pediatrics at the hearing, testified on Green's behalf.

The baby 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 eitherof his parents had held him.

The Morrises and their attorney, LaVonna Vice of Baltimore, contend that Green failed to give the baby enough oxygen, that he misread a chest X-ray and that he wrongly allowed the baby to be fed formula.

A medical examiner's report said oneof the causes of the baby's death was pneumomediastynum, a conditionin which air collects outside the lungs, causing pressure.

Green and his attorney, Michael Baxter of Baltimore, contend the baby died of "persistent fetal circulation," an often-fatal condition in which the baby cannot adjust to breathing outside the womb.

On the witness stand Friday, Heldrich supported that contention.

He said that if the baby had a large pneumomediastynum, hospital staff would have heard muffled heartbeats because of the concentration of air.

"Thepneumomediastynum that I saw was not significant enough to cause thebaby's demise," said Heldrich.

Under cross-examination, Vice tried to cast doubt on Heldrich's testimony by challenging the testimony he gave during the arbitration board hearing.

She said the doctor testified in July that the baby's death had something to do with inflammation of the muscles near the lungs.

Heldrich said Friday that he erred when he made that statement in July.

Vice said that Heldrich decided to change that opinion only last week, when Green's attorney pointed out that there was no clinical evidence in the baby's file to support it.

Heldrich said he wasn't sure where he came up with the idea that muscle inflammation contributed to the baby's death.

"But you were willing to testify under oath to that at the arbitration board," Vice replied.

Baxter is expected to complete Green's case Monday, when attorney Robert Morgan will present the hospital's case.

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