Posted On: March 30, 2011

Brain damaged boy’s family accepts $8.5M malpractice settlement

The family of a severely brain-damaged child in Bayonne, New Jersey will be paid $8.5 million to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit brought against the former owners of the Bayonne Medical Center and three medical workers. Attorneys representing the former owners of the hospital and the family settled the multimillion-dollar lawsuit after five days of testimony.

According to court records and trial testimony, Emily Ordonez, then 32, went to the hospital at 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2005 with labor pangs. All prenatal tests pointed to a normal healthy baby. But at 9:32 a.m., the heart monitor attached to her abdomen showed the baby's heart suddenly plunged from 140 beats per minute to the dangerously low level of 60 beats per minute.

Phone records show that the labor and delivery room nurse waited almost half an hour before calling the attending obstetrician and when he arrived from Staten Island 22 minutes later, he waited until 10:55 a.m. to start an emergency C-section.

The reason for the baby's low heart rate was that his umbilical chord was compressed and the fetus was starved for oxygen. The delays, therefore, left Jose Ordonez, now 5, with permanent brain damage and needing full-time care. The boy is prone to seizures, cannot see, walk, or hold his head up by himself, and he must be fed through a straw.

Besides the hospital, the parents sued the obstetrician, the delivery room nurse, and her supervisor.

Source: The Jersey Journal

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Posted On: March 25, 2011

Maryland lab destroys documentation on lead poisoning of children

Maryland’s Department of Health destroyed test results from the 1980s documenting lead poisoning of Maryland children — potentially thousands of records that are crucial to pursuing lawsuits seeking damages on behalf of lead-poisoned children and their families.

“We regret this, and we’re going to do everything possible to make it right,” said Maryland health secretary Joshua Sharfstein. Since learning of the destroyed files, Sharfstein has:

Asked for an investigation of how the destruction of records happened.

Replaced the lab’s director.

Ordered that efforts be made to recover whatever test results might have been deleted from state computer files.

Since the 1980s, physicians and health clinics in Maryland have had to report test results showing that children have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The state Department of Health maintained those test results for years and provided them on request to people who had been tested, their parents or their attorneys.

Attorneys say the records are critical to the hundreds of pending lead-poisoning cases. “If in fact the records are permanently gone,” one attorney said, “it will just make it impossible for some citizens in Baltimore to pursue cases.”

The revelation of the destroyed files comes more than a week after reports that the Baltimore City Health Department had lost federal lead abatement money for failing to meet treatment targets.

Sharfstein, who took over the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in January, acted promptly to halt the practice and restore any results that can be restored.

“We are not destroying any more records. We are preserving records. We are going back and reconstructing databases and doing everything possible” to find and replace the lost test results, Sharfstein said. “Regardless of whether the department has a legal obligation to maintain these records, we intend to do so.”

Source: The Baltimore Sun

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Posted On: March 16, 2011

Reports of eye damage from green laser pointers increase

Ophthalmologists worldwide are warning that recent cases of teenagers who suffered eye damage after playing with high-powered green laser pointers could be the beginning of a dangerous trend.

“In the hands of children, [they are] a very scary proposition,” said one ophthalmologist.

Meanwhile, other eye doctors interviewed by the New York Times said they were shocked at how easily available high-powered laser pointers are. And, they note, pointers 10 to 20 times more powerful than the legal limit set by the Food and Drug Administration are easy to order online. One physician was able to purchase a 100 milliwatt laser – 20 times the legal limit – online for $28, no questions asked.

Some physicians maintain that the dangers are so acute that even the FDA’s five-milliwatt limit is too high. And, in a consumer update in December, the FDA acknowledged that illegal laser pointers were being sold and warned that “a higher-powered laser gives you less time to look away before injury can occur, and as power increases, eye damage may happen in a microsecond.”

Steve Liu, chief executive of Wicked Lasers, said in an interview that the company's products did not violate FDA restrictions because those over the five-milliwatt limit were not called pointers, and that the company's web site clearly states that the lasers are eye and fire hazards. He also said his company would begin offering laser safety lessons to its customers before online checkout.

Laser experts concede that it is virtually impossible to control all the hazardous laser products currently available, and note that any talk of restricting availability would be resisted by the large community of laser enthusiasts, including those who use them professionally (e.g. contractors and astronomers).

Source: The New York Times

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Posted On: March 9, 2011

Preemies exposed to excessive radiation at Brooklyn hospital

Technicians at a Brooklyn, N.Y. hospital exposed premature babies to dangerous levels of radiation, according to a recently published report in the New York Times.

Technologists with the radiology department at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center routinely gave premature infants whole-body X-rays when physicians ordered only a chest X-ray. They also failed to shield the infants’ reproductive organs as required by New York state health codes.

(The photo at the top of this blog entry shows a whole-body X-ray of a baby from a textbook, intended to show how to use X-rays to detect child abuse. This practice is now out of favor with up-to-date doctors due to the radiation risks, but as the article shows, medical practice is sometimes slow to catch up with knowledge.)

The errors were first discovered by the chairman of the SUNY Downstate Department of Radiology, Dr. Salvatore Sclafani. In a letter to colleagues, Sclafani wrote that he was “mortified” after finding the “full, unabashed total irradiation of a neonate” when examining the chart of a premature baby in his care. A pediatric radiologist Sclafani brought in to evaluate the hospital’s procedures found other “alarming” practices: In addition to frequently performing whole body X-rays, known as babygrams, technicians were performing CT scans on infants using the wrong settings, resulting in excessive radiation.

Although new, tighter procedures for radiological imaging of infants were instituted and babygrams were halted altogether, the hospital never reported the errors to N.Y. state officials as required by law. State officials now are investigating the claims in the New York Times article.

With technologists in many states either lightly regulated or unregulated, their own professional group is calling for greater oversight and standards. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists has been lobbying Congress for 12 years to pass a bill that would establish minimum educational and certification requirements for technologists, medical physicists and 10 other occupations in medical imaging and radiation therapy. However, Congress has yet to pass such a bill, leaving regulation up to individuals states. And in many states, radiation therapists (15 states), imaging technologists (11 states) and medical physicists (18 states) remain unregulated.

“It’s amazing to us, knowing the complexity of medical imaging, that there are states that require massage therapists and hairdressers to be licensed, but they have no standards in place for exposing patients to ionizing radiation,” said Christine Lung, the technologist association’s vice president of government relations.

Source: The New York Times

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Posted On: March 1, 2011

Republicans aim to cut financing for toy hazard database

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act after a flood of unsafe toys from China hit the U.S. market. Less than three years later, however, the new Republican-led House of Representatives wants to roll back those protections by cutting $3 million in financing for a database where consumers could report product hazards and the public could check products before buying them.

It also wants to scale back back the requirement for third-party testing for lead and other hazards in products sold to children, while some GOP representatives have even proposed limiting the new protections to products for children under 6 or 7, rather than up to 12 years of age.

As part of this latest campaign against government regulation, some businesses warn that (a) the hazard database would open the door to bogus charges and lawsuits; (b) third-party testing of children’s products is too costly; and (c) some products should not be tested at all for things like lead because children are unlikely to eat them.

The New York Times, which is highly critical of the new campaign, calls the concern over frivolous lawsuits “a predictable canard,” noting that the database was designed with safeguards to avoid bogus claims. In an editorial, the paper noted that the small increase in costs due to testing is more than offset by the damage incurred by families and society when a child is poisoned or hurt by a dangerous toy, and that exposing older children to similar risks is unacceptable.

It also points out that there is still a lot of lead out there. Since the new law was passed in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 26 lead-related toy recalls.

Source: The New York Times

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