Jury gives $6.4 million to boy with brain damage

Malpractice award one of largest in Arundel

November 08, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

A 10-year-old Crofton boy who lawyers say suffered brain damage from inadequate oxygen in the minutes after his birth was awarded $6.4 million yesterday in one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Anne Arundel County history.

A Circuit Court jury found pediatrician Stephen A. Liverman negligent in his treatment of the boy, who lawyers said was born blue and went without sufficient oxygen for 80 minutes after he was delivered prematurely.

The jury found him and the hospital, Anne Arundel Medical Center, liable for damages.

The boy's parents filed the lawsuit in late 2001 after a conscience-stricken nurse came to a family picnic nine years after the birth and revealed what she viewed as a series of missteps in the hospital's newborn nursery.

The parents, Thomas and Valerie Shea, brushed away tears yesterday as they described how the award would offer their mentally disabled son financial security for the around-the-clock care he will need for the rest of his life.

"Every day, we worried, what will happen to him when we're gone," Valerie Shea said in the hallway of the downtown Annapolis courthouse. "Now we don't have to worry."

The verdict ends what the Sheas described as a decade-long odyssey to discover the cause of brain injuries that left their son, Patrick T. Shea, with an IQ of 49, severe learning disabilities and no ability to care for himself.

The doctor and the Annapolis hospital denied the allegations in court papers and produced experts over the week-and-a-half trial who argued that other factors may have caused the boy's retardation.

Their lawyers declined to comment yesterday because a technical aspect of the case will not be resolved until the jury meets for the last time Monday. Asked to comment outside the courtroom, Liverman, who now works in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said, "No, thank you."

The jury awarded $1.4 million for Patrick's future medical expenses, $3.5 million for his lost earning capacity, and $1.5 million for pain and suffering. Patrick, a blond, bespectacled boy with an elfin smile, is a special-education pupil at Crofton Middle School.

According to the lawsuit, Valerie Shea went to her obstetrician for a routine prenatal checkup on Nov. 9, 1992, during which an ultrasound showed that Patrick's heart was racing at more than 200 beats per minute, a life-threatening condition known as fetal tachycardia. The obstetrician had her rushed to Anne Arundel Medical Center, where doctors performed an emergency Caesarean section at 12:24 p.m.

When he emerged, Patrick was blue, his heart was still racing, and he was having trouble breathing.

Liverman gave him an oxygen mask and tried to revive him by placing ice on his cheeks, but did not insert an oxygen tube down his breathing passage until 1:20 p.m., some 56 minutes after his birth, the boy's lawyers said. They said it was 1:38 p.m. when Liverman, at the suggestion of a nurse, administered a dose of a heart drug called adenosine. Within five minutes, the lawyers said, Patrick's heart rate returned to normal and his color to a healthy pink.

Shea's lawyers, Robert J. Weltchek and Christian Lodowski, argued that the oxygen deprivation in the 80 minutes after delivery led to severe and permanent brain damage.

The Sheas said they knew nothing of their son's ordeal until 2001. Just after Patrick's delivery, Valerie Shea was recovering from the C-section, and Thomas Shea was still en route from his job.

The Sheas said that they had sought Patrick's hospital records in 1994 but received no documents about the efforts to revive their son. At a family picnic in 2001, Valerie Shea approached Joannie Gammill, a nurse who is a distant relative, about what happened at the hospital that day.

The nurse hinted that there had been problems and called the next day with details, leading the parents to file the lawsuit on their son's behalf.

The jury will reconvene Monday in the courtroom of Judge Philip T. Caroom to decide whether Liverman's medical practice, Pediatric Consultants of Annapolis, should contribute to the $6.4 million award.

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