Medical Malpractice: Newborn Carbon Dioxide Poisoning Results in Verdict of $16.5 Million

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Dwight Peterson, Army Staff Sgt., and his wife Shalay presented to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI for an elective cesarean section in January of 2005. Their son Izzy was born a healthy child, but now requires 24 hour care.

The Star Bulletin reported that within just one minute after the birth of Izzy Peterson, pediatrician Army Major Danielle Bird mistakenly administered carbon dioxide, used for stomach surgery, to the healthy newborn. It was not until nearly 42 minutes had passed, and the carbon dioxide tank was almost empty that someone realized this tragic error. Oxygen was supplemented, but by the time this intervention was attempted, Izzy had sustained irreversible brain damage.

Soon after Izzy’s birth, the Peterson family relocated to San Antonio, TX where they have obtained specialized care for Izzy. Izzy is fed through a gastrostomy tube and breathes through a tracheostomy, which he will do for the rest of his life.

Rick Fried, the Peterson’s attorney, filed suit in which it was alleged that Major Bird, a pediatrician doing her fellowship in neonatology, should have noted the difference between the carbon dioxide and oxygen tanks prior to administration. You think?!

Bird…would have had to adjust the upright regulator of the free-standing cylinder clearly labeled carbon dioxide, different from the clocklike regulator attached to oxygen tanks…

Attorneys for the defense tried to claim early on that Izzy had been born with some type of defect; an at-home video of Izzy’s birth as a healthy baby boy proved otherwise.

“You see him take his hand, trying to brush it (the carbon dioxide) away,” Fried said. “Even at birth he knew it wasn’t good for him.”

Although severely brain damaged, Izzy maintains self awareness, can track movement with his eyes and recognizes and responds to his parents. Izzy can feel pain and kick a ball, but will never perform as an average child.

Not present for the decision, the Petersons were informed that federal judge, David Ezra, ruled in favor of the family. Dwight and Shalay Peterson were awarded $16.5 million, which will help to pay for Izzy’s extensive medical care.

Tripler’s Maj. Gen. Carla Halwey-Bowland said in a news release: “Tripler Army Medical Center accepts responsibility for this tragic incident and respects the decision made by the Honorable David Ezra. Our command and well-trained staff are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure an incident similar to this never happens again, such as improvements in medical gas safety — how they are labeled and handled and staff education.”

Tripler Army Medical Center is the largest Army hospital in the Pacific basin. It contains over 200 hospital beds and provides medical care to almost 400,000 eligible patients. The Medical Center is accredited with providing the best medical care in it’s region, but even in the best hospitals, mistakes can be made.

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