Parents Get ‘Bystander’ Damages for Daughter’s Punctured Heart

SHREVEPORT, La. (CN) – The parents of a child whose heart was pierced during surgery were correctly awarded $25,000 each in “bystander” damages, but a lower court erred in not allowing the hospital a retrial on the remainder of the damage award, a state appeals court ruled.

As recounted in the ruling by Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal, Anna Cathryn Cooper was being treated in the pediatric intensive care unit at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Shreveport for serious complications from an E. Coli infection she developed after attending an end-of-school year party.

On May 19, 2011, John and Julie Cooper, Anna Cathryn’s parents, were told a doctor decided to drain excess fluid from a sac around their daughter’s heart because it was driving down her blood pressure.

At the time, the six year old was already suffering from sepsis and kidney failure.

The Coopers said they were awaiting the end of the procedure in the hospital when non-party Dr. Sunita Bhandare came running down the hall and told them there was a serious problem.

They said they were told Anna Cathryn’s heart had been punctured during the procedure, that the operating room  team was doing chest compressions on her, and that the Coopers needed to see their daughter.

The ruling says that as John Cooper walked into his daughter’s room and saw what was happening, he immediately turned to his wife and told her not to come in.

Julie Cooper later said although she did not go into the room, she later saw Anna Cathryn being wheeled down the hall toward an operating suite. As the gurney passed her, a nurse sat on her daughter’s bed giving the girl oxygen.

In testifying about the incident, John Cooper described he and his wife’s panicked run down the hall after learning Anna Cathryn’s heart had been punctured.

He testified that as soon as he got to the his daughter’s room and saw “the total chaos,” he knew his wife could not to enter, because “she couldn’t handle it.”

Cooper said that when he turned back to the room, he saw his daughter roll her head to the side and that it looked like she was staring at the door.

He also described the chaos that transpired as doctors and nurses sought to deal with the extreme emergency and the “tremendous amount of blood” the little girl was losing. At one point, he said, he saw a large resident doctor holding Anna Cathryn’s chest open.

Cooper said by the time doctors and nurses began to roll his daughter out of her room and into the operating room, he was in shock and was unable to regain his composure or speak or respond to friends and family members who had begun to arrive at the hospital.

Those friends and family members later testified they’d been called to the hospital by Julie Cooper, who told them something had gone terribly wrong during Anna Cathryn’s heart surgery. They said when they arrived, Julie Cooper was with her face buried in her knees and John Cooper was sitting beside her, looking terrified and in shock.

Neither was able to say what had happened. All John Cooper could tell them was that he’d been in his daughter’s room until “it all went bad,” the couple’s friends said.

Cooper testified that it was only later that evening that he was finally able to tell his wife what he had seen, and that they are both still haunted by what transpired.

Considering all of this, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 15 that a lower court jury was correct to award John and Julie Cooper each $25,000 in “bystander” damages.

However, Circuit Judge Henry Brown Jr., writing for the court, said a new trial should be granted to the defendants in this case — Drs. Kamakshya Patra, Robert Jackson, and Horacio D’Agostino; Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport; and the LSU Medical Center – Shreveport — on the total $370,000 in damages the couple was awarded by the trial court.

After that judgment was rendered, attorneys for the defendants noticed the judgment did not comply with Louisiana law as it applies to awards of future medical expenses in medical malpractice judgments against state service providers.

The attorneys appealed seeking a new trial on the grounds the verdict appears “clearly contrary to the law and evidence.” The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

“We find … the trial court erred in failing to grant defendant’s motion for new trial as it was made to correct an error of law in the judgment,” Brown wrote.