The independent news organization of Duke University

Health System faces lawsuit for wrongful death of day-old baby

Duke University Health System is named in a wrongful death suit filed Tuesday in Durham County Superior Court.

The lawsuit alleges that the Health System, Dr. James Short and Person County Memorial Hospital all acted below the appropriate standard of care in their treatment of Austin Damien Long, a one-day-old baby who died at Duke Hospital April 11, 1997.

According to the suit, the Health System's Life Flight helicopter took too long to arrive at PCMH and transport Long to Duke for further treatment.

The suit also claims that before the helicopter flight, Short and other care-givers at PCMH in Roxboro made an incorrect diagnosis and were too slow to administer treatment.

The Health System currently manages PCMH, although it did not in April 1997.

The suit was filed just days before the two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death cases expired.

"The physicians and hospitals and nurses are expected to provide a level of care that is standard for the community," said attorney Bree Lorant, who represents Long's parents.

In this case, Lorant added, the physician board required to pre-approve the lawsuit felt that this level of care was not met.

Health System officials declined to comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit describes the events of April 10 and 11 as follows:

At the time of his birth, Long received oxygen for irregular respirations and slight retractions.

During the afternoon and evening, the suit claims that the boy exhibited hypoglycemia, hypothermia and abnormal muscle tone. However, there is no evidence in Long's hospital records that a doctor examined him nor that nurses requested a doctor's evaluation.

According to the suit, "No medications were administered to correct or treat these symptoms, and his blood glucose level was never rechecked after the initial abnormal reading."

The following day, many of Long's symptoms continued, the suit alleges. During the afternoon of April 11, hospital records written by one of the nurses caring for Long noted that the boy had spit up yellow secretions.

Soon after, yellow fecal-smelling secretions were coming from his nose and mouth. Short was notified of the boy's condition and arrived at the hospital about an hour and a half later.

Short then diagnosed Long with a bowel obstruction and requested that the boy be accepted at Duke Hospital and transported via Life Flight, the suit says. Duke agreed to admit Long at 5:30 p.m.

Soon thereafter, the boy began to have difficulty breathing.

Two hours later, he temporarily stopped breathing, and the suit alleges "resuscitation measures were instituted, but these were delayed and carried out inappropriately."

Short returned to the hospital at 9:05 p.m. and administered Long's first dose of antibiotics.

At 9:35 p.m., the helicopter arrived to transport Long to Duke, and the team determined that he was suffering from septic shock and treated him accordingly, the suit claims. At 10:25 p.m. the helicopter left PCMH.

During the flight, Long again stopped breathing, the suit reads.

Care-givers unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate Long during the flight. Long was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. in the Duke Emergency Department.

According to the suit, an autopsy showed no evidence of bowel obstruction. The cause of death was recorded as sepsis and aspiration pneumonia.

Comments