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Girl Awarded $10 Million in Medical Suit

September 12, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

AZUSA — Jourdan Ontal was a bright, witty, active little girl who loved to dance around her dad. Her father, Ed Williams, said he dreamed of playing in the park with her as she grew and of one day giving her away at her wedding.

Unfortunately, Williams said, those hopes are gone. Doctors, he said, have told him and his wife, Yasmin, that their 4-year-old daughter is mentally disabled, blind, and has limited ability to move her body.

"She needs total care. You have to be with her always. She can't move by herself," Yasmin Williams said.

Jourdan suffered brain damage when an oxygen tube came loose while she was still under anesthesia after surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center, her parents learned.

Last month, a San Bernardino County Superior Court jury awarded Jourdan a $10.23-million verdict against the hospital known for its pioneering work with children.

"They never told us what happened," Ed Williams said of Loma Linda officials. He said the family became concerned after noticing for several days that Jourdan was not moving much. Eventually, Williams said, he became angry and demanded to know what was wrong; only then did doctors tell them that Jourdan was "very seriously brain damaged according to a scan."

Jourdan, who has her mother's maiden name, was born in 1989 with a narrow windpipe that forced doctors to insert a tube into it shortly after she was born. Although she was unable to speak because of the tube, her parents say she loved to play.

In May, 1991, when Jourdan was 20 months old, she went for what was considered routine surgery at Loma Linda, said Ralph Leech, an El Monte attorney who along with his son, Wayne, represented the family.

Doctors had decided it was time to remove the tube and rebuild her windpipe so she could speak and breathe normally, he said. Jourdan was put under general anesthesia for surgery and was kept unconscious for several days to make her recovery easier.

However, Leech said, after surgery the oxygen tube running down into her lungs came loose and the end moved up into her windpipe, which swelled, cutting off her oxygen supply. The little girl's heart stopped beating. A warning alarm sounded and doctors restored her air supply within a few minutes. But it was too late to prevent brain damage, said Leech.

Leech said his investigations revealed that a single piece of tape placed across the girl's face to keep the tube in place came loose. He said that in other cases he researched, more care was taken to secure the vital tube.

Officials at the medical center declined to comment Thursday about the verdict.

Attorneys for the medical center admitted liability for Jourdan's brain damage the day before the trial began, Wayne Leech said. The trial was only over the amount of money Jourdan should get.

The jury in the trial, which lasted through much of August, awarded $7.21 million for future medical care, $605,000 for past medical and home care, $435,000 for future loss of earnings and $2 million for pain and suffering, Wayne Leech said.

He said the $2 million for pain and suffering will be reduced to $250,000 because of limits set by California law.

Williams said the family went public with the story to let people know that doctors make mistakes, and in hopes that the publicity will make Loma Linda and other hospitals more careful.

He said the hospital was so scared of the liability that it showed no compassion for his family and never apologized for a mistake that ruined his little girl's life.

"I hope they will deal with families in a more compassionate way in the future," he said.

The parents say their daughter has improved in recent years. Now she smiles and Ed swears she responds to his movements even though doctors say that her brain takes in no visual input from her eyes.

But he said, "She will never have a boyfriend or play with her own dog in the park."

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