An Allegany County jury has awarded more than $7 million to the family of a Cumberland girl who suffered a massive brain injury as an infant, due to a congenital heart defect that went undiagnosed.
Robert and Katherine Henry alleged that Dr. Michael Levitas, a pediatrician, should have recommended a consultation with a pediatric cardiologist after twice observing Madison Henry with an abnormally high heart rate in the days after her birth in March 2008. The heart defect, a narrowing of the aorta, forced Madison to undergo emergency surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital when she was nine days old. She remained at the hospital for two months.
Madison now has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder and will require medical care for the rest of her life, according to the lawsuit.
The verdict is primarily for economic damages, including future medical care and lost earnings. The jury’s award of $1 million in non-economic damages will be capped at $695,000 under state law.
The Henrys “are overwhelmed with joy that they are now able to care for their baby going forward,” said Kathleen Howard Meredith of Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan P.C. in Pasadena, who represented the family along with David J. Wildberger.
Conrad W. Varner, who represented Levitas and his employer, Children’s Medical Group P.A., said in an emailed statement that Levitas was not negligent and did not violate the standard of care.
“In this case, the issue involved a rare congenital heart condition that did not manifest itself until the baby’s heart went into failure,” said Varner, of Varner & Goundry P.C. in Frederick.
The Henrys, however, alleged that the narrowing of the aorta is a common defect with a very high success rate for surgical treatment.
During the nine-day trial before Judge Gary G. Leasure, the plaintiffs’ defense experts said Madison could have lived a normal life had the heart defect been detected earlier, according to Meredith.
“With straightforward surgery, this baby would have been absolutely normal,” Meredith said Tuesday.
Madison was born March 26, 2008, after a “full-term, uncomplicated pregnancy,” according to the family’s complaint, filed in April 2011. She was discharged two days later and underwent a routine examination by Levitas on March 29, according to the complaint. All of Madison’s vital signs were normal except for an elevated heart rate of 184 beats per minute, according to the lawsuit. Two days later, Levitas recorded her heart rate at 192 beats per minutes, according to the lawsuit.
Levitas “failed to undertake any additional evaluation or examinations and failed to refer Madison Henry for specialty consultation and evaluation,” the lawsuit alleges.
On April 3, Katherine Henry noticed her daughter was not feeding as well as she had been and was having difficulty breathing, the complaint states. Madison was taken to a local hospital later that day after the area around her mouth turned blue, the lawsuit states.
Hopkins was contacted after a pediatric cardiac surgeon was not available at nearby West Virginia University Hospital, according to the lawsuit. Bad weather grounded Hopkins’ helicopter, so Henry was transported on the ground and had to be resuscitated at least once on the trip to Baltimore, the plaintiffs alleged.
An echocardiogram performed at Hopkins discovered the narrow aorta. Madison went into full cardiac arrest during surgery and survived with the help of an artificial lung for 11 days, according to the lawsuit. She remained at Hopkins until the end of May.
The jury of five women and one man deliberated for six hours before coming back with a verdict on Friday. The award includes more than $4.5 million in future medical and life care expenses and more than $1.2 million in lost future earnings.
HENRY, ET AL V. CHILDREN’S MEDICAL GROUP P.A., ET AL.
Allegany County Circuit Court
Gary G. Leasure
Verdict for $7,006,719.13 — $4,518,665 for future medical and life care expenses, $1,218,155 for future lost earnings, $1 million in noneconomic damages, $269,909.13 in past medical expenses
Incident: March 28, 2008 to May 27, 2008
Suit filed: April 21, 2011
Verdict: Oct. 18, 2013
Kathleen Howard Meredith and David J. Wildberger of Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan P.C. in Pasadena
Conrad W. Varner of Varner & Goundry P.C. in Frederick