For the week of May 19, 1999  thru May 25, 1999  

Trial begins in malpractice case

Parents of brain-damaged child sue doctors and Wood River Medical Center

Express Staff Writer

The plaintiff’s attorney in a medical malpractice suit that began yesterday in U.S. District Court in Boise painted a picture of reckless care at Wood River Medical Center in Hailey, an attempted coverup and back-stabbing between employees at the hospitals’ two campuses.

Quinn and Sandy Kirkland are suing Wood River Medical Center, Blaine County, the city of Sun Valley, Dr. Ross Donald and Dr. Randall Coriell for an allegedly botched procedure and subsequent care when Sandy was pregnant in August 1995.

The Kirklands’ son, Bryce, was born through an emergency cesarean section with brain, heart, lung and kidney problems.

"This family and this baby now face a nightmare in taking care of these problems, " the Kirklands’ attorney, Joel Cunningham, told the all-woman jury.

The Kirklands claim that Bryce’s extensive brain damage will cost as much as $6 million for treatment during his lifetime.

The case is being heard by federal district Judge Edward Lodge.

Prior to Sandy’s hospitalization at Wood River Medical Center, the couple had moved to Carey from Rexburg to be with Quinn’s parents during his wife’s pregnancy. On Aug. 12, 1995, Sandy was admitted to Wood River Medical Center in Hailey because of possible premature labor at seven and a half months. She was taking drugs to control her contractions, but the drugs were having unwanted side effects and Sandy was considering discontinuing them.

On Aug. 16, Dr. Coriell, her physician, recommended to Dr. Donald, a local obstetrician, that an amniocentesis be done to determine whether Sandy’s baby had matured enough to be delivered in case she went into labor once the drugs were withdrawn. The procedure involved inserting a needle into the uterus to withdraw amniotic fluid.

According to Cunningham, Dr. Donald recommended to Dr. Coriell that Sandy be transferred to St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise.

Dr. Donald, Cunningham said, felt that the Hailey Campus of Wood River Medical Center was "a very unsafe facility" and did not send patients to deliver babies there.

The two campuses, Cunningham told jurors, were involved in a "turf war" and he speculated that Dr. Coriell may have kept Sandy at Wood River Medical Center in Hailey to prove that it could handle her care.

However, Dr. Donald performed the amniocentesis as requested, but discovered that he would have to draw fluid through the placenta due to the baby’s position.

Cunningham said that when Donald performed the procedure he unexpectedly drew blood with the fluid, a condition known as a "bloody tap."

"Dr. Donald, from that moment on, tried to cover up the fact that he got a bloody tap." Cunningham said.

Following the amniocentesis, Sandy returned to Wood River Medical Center in Hailey. Cunningham told jurors that Dr. Coriell and Dr. Donald then talked on the phone and Dr. Donald reported that he had not had to go through the placenta and that the amniocentesis had been "uneventful."

That night, Cunningham said, fetal heart monitoring equipment showed a dangerously flat line. The nurses’ reaction, Cunningham claimed, was to turn off the machine.

"The baby’s calling 911 and the nurse is hanging up the phone," Cunningham said.

By 4:30 a.m. Coriell was informed of the condition, but he ordered only that Sandy be given juice, Cunningham said. Coriell did not appear in the room until 5:45 a.m., he said.

By that time, it became clear that Bryce would need to be delivered through an emergency C-section. When he was delivered., Cunningham said, Sandy’s uterus was found to be full of blood and Bryce to have lost half of his blood. The result, Cunningham said, was a deprivation of oxygen to Bryce’s brain.

The medical personnel involved, Cunningham told jurors, had "17 hours when they watched and did nothing."

Likely contradictions in testimony in the case were made clear at the start of the trial by the fact that Dr. Donald and Dr. Coriell are represented by different attorneys. Dr. Donald’s attorney, Steve Tolman, also represents Wood River Medical Center.

Tolman told jurors that withdrawing amniotic fluid through the placenta is not an abnormal procedure, but that he discussed with Sandy the risks involved. Dr. Donald initially drew a small amount of blood, Tolman said, but then he got clear fluid.

"It was an uneventful amniocentesis," Tolman said. "He had no reason to know that a fetal vessel was struck by the needle."

Tolman, and Dr. Coriell’s attorney, Jeremiah Quane, offered accounts of the critical events that occurred during the night of Aug. 16-17, while Sandy was in the hospital, that conflicted with Cunningham’s portrayal and with each other.

"The question’s going to be who knew what during that time," Tolman said.

"Dr. Coriell will say about Dr. Donald, ‘You lied to me.’

"Dr. Donald will say, ‘No, I didn’t.’

"Dr. Coriell will say nurse Leslie Chapman didn’t tell him all the information in her notes.

"Chapman will say, ‘Yes, I did.’"

Quane told jurors that from the information Dr. Coriell had received, he had no reason to suspect that the fetus had been injured.

But Tolman contended that 7 to 10 days after the delivery. Dr. Coriell had made changes to his notes indicating that he had been in Sandy’s room at 4 a.m.

"You’re going to have to determine the credibility of the witnesses in this case, Tolman told the jurors.

The trial is expected to last one month.


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