$20 million can't buy boy a normal life Award will go toward child's medical needs

December 01, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Gary and Lisa Boulay have turned a walk-in closet in their son's bedroom into a medical supply room and themselves into home-trained nurses.

Their world changed in just a few minutes last year when their 4-year-old son, William, was almost killed in a motel swimming pool accident, his intestines sucked from his body by a defective drain.

Now, everything is about to change again. The Glen Burnie couple agreed to a $20 million out-of-court settlement Monday that will pay the $500,000 in overdue medical expenses and guarantee the $20,000 to $30,000 a month William will need for medical and living expenses for the rest of his life.

What the money will not do is allow him to eat solid food or free him from the colostomy bag and the hose attached to his chest that pumps nutrition through his body.

The hose is connected to a 6-foot-high medical cart that towers over the dark-haired boy as he wheels it around with him.

"It's something he's going to have to deal with every minute of every day for the rest of his life," said Gary Boulay, 36, a carpenter and the father of four.

After the accident, William went through three months of treatment at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, while his parents were instructed in all that would be involved in caring for their youngest son.

They don sterile gloves to replace the feeding tubes and have learned how to change his colostomy bags and the importance of keeping him hydrated.

They measure and document -- usually in 1-ounce cups -- every helping of bottled water, Gatorade or Peptamen, a baby formula-like mix that provides William with most of his nutrients. They follow the same exacting procedures with William's bodily wastes.

The Boulays filed suit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Aug. 31, 1995, two weeks after the drain cover of the wading pool at the Glen Burnie Holiday Inn slipped off, creating suction that pulled out 20 percent of William's large intestine and all his small intestine.

According to court papers, the motel failed to have a lifeguard on duty, had no certified pool operator on its staff and opened the wading pool -- a month before the accident -- without the $H required county health inspections. A lifeguard and pool operator are required by Anne Arundel County ordinances.

The Boulays -- who were at the motel because they had been burned out of their Baltimore house six weeks earlier -- say the accident never would have happened if the pool drain had been properly sealed.

"Everyone keeps saying this was a freak accident. It wasn't a freak accident, it was a case of negligence," said Boulay.

Spokesmen for the motel operators, Winegardner & Hammonds Inc. of Cincinnati, declined to comment.

The president of Chesapeake Pools of Linthicum, the pool maintenance company named as a defendant, said the drainage system had been modified by the motel staff after the last service call a month before the accident.

"It's our position that there were factors completely outside our control that were responsible for what happened," Frank Goldstein, the company president, said.

Health experts say that it is not the first such incident.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that since 1980, 19 people have been trapped on pool or hot tub drains. Six of the cases have been fatal.

Dr. Thomas B. Cole, a Durham, N.C. epidemiologist and an editor with the Journal of the American Medical Association, said the number of accidents is probably far greater than what has been reported to the safety commission.

For example, he said that he discovered three unreported cases over a recent four-year period in North Carolina, where the General Assembly banned single-drain wading pools after a 5-year-old girl had 75 percent of her intestines sucked out in 1993.

Lisa Boulay said that on the day of the accident she got out of the adult pool at the motel with her three other children -- Joshua, 12, Jeremy, 10, and Alisha, 8 -- and noticed that William had drifted from a corner of the nearby wading pool to its center.

She went to him, but couldn't lift him out because the suction from the drain was holding him down. After calling out for help for about five minutes, a janitor assigned to watch the pool shut off the drain, she said.

"It was like in that movie, 'The Ten Commandments,' when Moses touched the sea with his rod and turned it red. That's what happened in the pool, it went blood red," said Lisa Boulay, 33.

The Boulays say the settlement will not be going toward vacations or extravagant gifts. The couple hopes to meet with a medical planner in the next few weeks to come up with an investment plan for William. And they plan to replace their house.

"These kids deserve a basement they can play in," Gary Boulay said, watching them scurry through a hallway in their cluttered apartment.

Boulay hopes to return to work, possibly setting up a contracting business with an investor who will buy land for him to build houses.

For William, the future remains uncertain. His injuries are relatively rare, so that doctors cannot say whether he will be able to ever play sports, ride a bicycle or leave the machines to which he is tethered. Private school is a must.

"His colostomy bag has to be dumped every 15 minutes. No regular schoolteacher in the world's going to want to put up with that," Boulay said.

The Boulays say they plan to spread the word to Maryland lawmakers, swimming pool manufacturers and other parents that pools can be dangerous if they're not properly maintained.

They have been on the television program "20-20," hope to get on Oprah Winfrey's show and will tell any state legislators who will listen about the need to make swimming pools safer.

"I want this story to stick in people's heads, so that when Mom takes her kids to the pool next summer they know this could happen," Lisa Boulay said. "It could save another child's life."

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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