Luvera Law Firm: Judge Awards $15.2 million after Doctors' Miscue Leaves Child Brain Damaged

University of Washington and Seattle Children's doctor recommends wrong medication for a 4-year-old girl leading to cardiac arrest and severe brain damage

Jul 12, 2013, 14:36 ET from Luvera Law Firm

SEATTLE, July 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A judge today has awarded an 8-year-old girl from Snoqualmie, Wash. $15.2 million after a University of Washington doctor at Seattle Children's Hospital improperly recommended an over-the-counter medication that left the child with permanent brain damage.

The case, filed Oct. 28, 2011 in King County Superior Court, alleged that the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital committed medical negligence.

MacKenzie Briant – who had undergone a heart transplant as an infant – was given a dose of Afrin at the direction of a cardiologist, which caused the cardiac event, depriving her brain of oxygen and leading to extensive brain damage.

According to court records, MacKenzie's mother Elaine Briant called Seattle Children's Transplant Service – where MacKenzie received care – because MacKenzie had developed a cold and stuffy nose.  The mother's call was returned by Dr. Cory Noel, a cardiology fellow who was working in the Transplant Service.  

Court records show that Noel then spoke to transplant cardiologist Dr. Yuk Law, who provided treatment suggestions to Noel and specifically warned that MacKenzie should not be given Afrin, a decongestant, because it could cause hypertension or other cardiac issues.

Dr. Noel misunderstood, and instead directed MacKenzie's mother to give the child Afrin – exactly opposite of what he was instructed. Within minutes after receiving Afrin, MacKenzie suffered a cardiac arrest.

Paramedics arrived and re-started her heart, but not before her brain was starved of oxygen, causing irreparable brain damage. MacKenzie spent nearly two months in Seattle Children's Hospital before she was released. She now requires around-the-clock nursing care.

"In all my years representing families dealing with medical malpractice, this is one of the most heartbreaking medical negligence cases I have seen," said Ralph Brindley, partner of The Luvera Law Firm and the attorney representing the Briant family. "When we talk about medical errors, rarely is the error as elementary and vivid as failing to verify and follow a verbal order, especially as simple as something like 'do not use Afrin.'"

Brindley noted that had Noel repeated Law's order back to him -- standard procedure in healthcare – Law would most certainly have corrected Noel's error.

"Tragically, Dr. Noel did not follow the procedures to deliver an acceptable standard of care, and as a result, MacKenzie will spend the rest of her life unable to speak or feed herself."

MacKenzie was born in 2004 with a congenital heart defect and received a heart transplant at 110 days-old. Since that transplant, MacKenzie had blossomed into a vibrant child, enrolled in school, and was in good health, according to court documents.

In November 2008, one month after her fourth birthday, MacKenzie had a cold with typical symptoms, including nasal congestion. Her primary care pediatrician diagnosed MacKenzie with an upper respiratory infection. Elaine Briant kept in close contact not only with him, but with the hospital over the next several days.

According to court documents, Elaine Briant called Seattle Children's Hospital looking for a recommendation to relieve MacKenzie's nasal congestion. Dr. Noel returned her call, retrieved the appropriate information from her and consulted with Dr. Law, who has treated MacKenzie for years. Dr. Noel's recommendation was that Elaine Briant should treat her daughter with Afrin.

Afrin, like many nasal decongestants, is a vasoconstrictor, which can cause increased blood pressure, which puts unnecessary stress on the heart for vulnerable pediatric heart-transplant patients. "The medical literature is clear – giving a heart-transplant patient a dose of Afrin is unacceptable," Brindley added.

Dr. Noel testified that he does not know where the miscommunication took place, but that he had directed Mrs. Briant to give Afrin to MacKenzie – even though Dr. Law testified he told him not to. Several minutes later MacKenzie went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Emergency Services resuscitated MacKenzie and took her to Seattle Children's Hospital.

MacKenzie stayed at the hospital for nearly two months, including a month in the ICU, until she was released Jan. 16, 2008, diagnosed with severe brain damage.

The three-week bench trial began on April 22, 2013. Judge John Erlick issued his ruling today.

"This was an incredibly hard-fought case," said Brindley. "While the University of Washington and Seattle Children's finally admitted its doctors were negligent, they steadfastly argued that the Afrin was not the cause of MacKenzie's cardiac event, although she coded soon after her mother administered the dose. We are enormously grateful that Judge Erlick reached the conclusions he did."

The family cares for MacKenzie twenty-four hours a day with the help of nurses, when available. MacKenzie, now 8-years-old, also has a 12-year-old brother.

"While we are obviously devastated about this medical error, we want to be clear that we do not hold Dr. Law in any way responsible for this tragedy," Elaine Briant added. "He gave the appropriate information to Dr. Noel, and I know he shares our grief."

Briant noted that Dr. Law continues to be MacKenzie's cardiologist.


About Luvera Law Firm
Luvera Law Firm is a nationally recognized firm, with high standards of ethical conduct. The firm specializes in medical malpractice, brain injury, death and other major damage cases, and seeks justice for clients as well as positive changes in corporate and governmental behavior.  Two members of the firm belong to the Inner Circle of Advocates, the nation's most exclusive plaintiff's trial lawyer's association, whose membership is limited to 100 of the best lawyers in the United States.

Ralph Brindley [(206) 467-6090]
Luvera Law Firm

SOURCE Luvera Law Firm