Final Verdict: Tragic Death Not Malpractice
Nothing is more tragic than the loss of a child. It is particularly difficult for the parents, in many cases, because other people cannot recognize what they are going through. A mother who has only recently given birth has carried her child for nearly a year even before anyone else has had a chance to meet the new arrival. The bond that parents feel with a new child is indiscernible to other people who know them, and so the pain when that bond is lost is similarly inscrutable.
In the aftermath of losing a child, the parents will be in an emotionally vulnerable state. They may become depressed or angry, or they may have difficulty coping with the stresses of everyday life. In many situations, they will look for someone to blame for the event. This is particularly true when the death took place in a medical context. They don’t understand why the tragedy happened and are sure that someone should have done something more.
It’s easy to think that doctors are infallible and have all the answers, so when things go wrong, they are the first ones to receive blame. This approach, while entirely understandable, misses the reality that doctors cannot be in complete control of every situation. On all too many occasions, they are just doing their best to provide support in a situation where there is no easy answer.
One-day old Momodu Bundu, the son of Alpha Bundu and Lawrena Konah, came under the care of Dr. Lisa Pauls, a pediatrician at the Laurel Regional Hospital. Momodu had been born the prior day. When she first examined him, he showed no signs of jaundice or any other adverse condition. Unfortunately, examination late that night showed elevated levels of bilirubin, corresponding to serious jaundice. Tests showed that Momodu had ABO incompatibility, a blood disease in which red blood cells break down rapidly. Despite attempts to treat his condition, Momodu suffered hemodynamic collapse, respiratory failure, and damage to his heart that led to his death on January 2, 2015.
Alpha and Lawrena sued the hospital and Dr. Pauls, arguing that she was to blame for Momodu’s death. They said that, given his high bilirubin levels when the condition was discovered, he should have shown signs earlier that Dr. Pauls could have seen. Their medical malpractice attornies argued that if Dr. Pauls had ordered a bilirubin test earlier, more could have been done to treat the condition and it might not have been fatal.
However, Dr. Pauls argued that the science associated with jaundice did not support the claims of the plaintiff. She said that although Momodu may have had ABO incompatibility, the actual cause of death was infection resulting from enterococcus and E. coli. These infections had resulted in sepsis, from which Momodu was unable to recover. Neither delayed diagnosis nor any other act or omission from Dr. Pauls contributed to his death.
Over the course of the six-day trial, the plaintiffs were unable to show credible evidence that Dr. Pauls had caused the injuries. The Prince George County jury deliberated for five hours before returning a verdict of no malpractice. Cohen & Cohen, P.C.