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Surgery Resulted in Brain Damage : $6 Million Awarded to Family of Injured Boy

November 17, 1985|LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writer

SAN BERNARDINO — In a malpractice case settlement, Loma Linda University Medical Center and a host of doctors and medical corporations have agreed to pay at least $6 million to the parents of a 5-year-old boy who was severely brain damaged during a non-emergency surgical procedure.

Chris Michael Dexter was 3 years old when he was admitted to the hospital Aug. 12, 1983, with a nagging cough and fever.

During a bronchoscopy--a probe of the bronchial system--conducted by surgeon Olajire Idowu and student nurse anesthetist Chris Brown, a piece of food fiber, apparently trapped in a bronchial tube, was dislodged and clogged the boy's windpipe, according to attorneys in the case.

The boy was deprived of oxygen for 10 minutes. Now he is a brain-damaged, spastic quadriplegic requiring 24-hour care at his parents' home in Winnemucca, Nev. Ensuing medical costs of $100,000 a year have been financially devastating for the boy's parents, Robert Dexter, a farmer, and Wendy Dexter, a dietitian, said their Whittier attorney, Rodney E. Moss.

"The boy cries and feels pain. He is in the depths of hell," Moss said after the settlement was announced Friday in the courtroom of San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Don A. Turner.

The $6-million settlement--nearly half of which must be paid now--ends a lawsuit filed in July, 1984, alleging malpractice and negligence. It calls for the defendants to pay at least $6 million over a 30-year period in a combination of lump sums and annuity payments.

If the boy lives a normal life span, which his doctors do not expect, the amount could go as high as $12 million, Moss said.

"We're not conceding negligence on the part of anyone," said Don Brown, the Riverside attorney who represented the hospital and negotiated the settlement in the case. Nonetheless, he added that Chris is a "very badly damaged little boy with only limited life expectancy" and that "we did not want to take the case to a jury because of the obvious sympathy factors."

The family had been referred to Loma Linda by relatives who worked there.

Under terms of the settlement, the defendants are to make immediate payment of $1 million in cash for attorney's fees, Medi-Cal and nursing services and physical and occupational therapy rendered since the injury.

The agreement also calls for the deposit within two days of $201,327 in a trust fund and the purchase of an annuity for $1.7 million. Annuity payments will amount to $12,500 a month for the life of the boy or for at least 20 years, Moss said.

Additional cash payments amounting to $2.1 million will be paid to the Dexters over a 30-year period, Moss said. He said the Dexters will probably buy a new home to accommodate a full-time nurse and therapy equipment for Chris, their only son.

The boy's parents could not be reached for comment, but Moss said: "They harbor no ill will toward Loma Linda; it is an excellent institution. It is one of those isolated incidents of medical negligence on the part of their personnel."

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