Could something have been done differently? Could this somehow have been prevented? These questions haunt a medical patient and their loved ones for years after a botched medical procedure or an improper diagnosis. In the case of Jeanette Gutierrez and Luis Gallego — parents of 11-year-old Jeniah Gallego — these questions must resonate daily.
Let’s back up a moment. In 2004, Jeanette Gutierrez — 28-weeks pregnant at the time — arrived at Bay State Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was concerned about a noticeable decrease in her baby’s movement. Gutierrez was promptly admitted and the decision was made to monitor her. Although the attending physician was called at his home when baby Jeniah’s heart rate dropped, he decided not to come in.
What Went Wrong
Had the attending physician, Dr. David Seubert, come into the hospital at that crucial moment, perhaps Gutierrez would have received the emergency cesarean section that she needed. Perhaps the tests monitoring Gutierrez would have been more appropriately assessed. It was only hours later, when Jeniah’s heart rate dropped even more dramatically, that the hospital ended up performing an emergency cesarean section.
Jeniah was born barely alive. Once resuscitated, the hospital staff discovered that she had severe brain damage from a lack of oxygen and blood flow. Since that moment — for the last 11 years — Jeanette Gutierrez and Luis Gallego have done everything within their power to care for their ailing daughter.
The Catastrophic Effects of Medical Negligence
As a result of this damage, Jeniah is unable to walk or speak, she is legally blind. Jeniah is fed through a gastric tube and has a tracheotomy to aid in breathing and to remove secretions from the lungs - this tube must be suctioned multiple times per day.
Needless to say, the financial, physical, and emotional demands placed on Jeniah and her loved ones have been overwhelming. Despite all this, Jeniah often attends school with the help of one-on-one teaching and nursing aids, it's obvious she is well-loved.
The Importance of Fighting for Justice
Thankfully, a civil lawsuit filed against Dr. Seubert, arguing the case for medical malpractice and decided by a public jury, has been successful and as a result Jeniah’s parents will receive $30 Million. With this money, Jeniah’s past care will be compensated for, and, more importantly, the care that she will need moving forward will also be funded. The money awarded also addresses the unnecessary pain and suffering caused by this negligence.
There is something won here that cannot be measured monetarily, however. The precedent that such a case sets is one that is extremely valuable in maintaining a just society. The modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, historically taken by physicians and dating back to times of antiquity, asks new doctors to proclaim: “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.”
These ideals, when upheld, certainly go a long way in ensuring patient safety and wellness. Unfortunately, there are times when these ideals are not upheld. There are times when an attending physician may not be that attentive. For those times, we can rely on the effectiveness of the legal system, and we can hope that, as a result of successful litigation, future instances of negligence will be averted.