Jury awards $15-million in boy's death
The 15-month-old died at the hospital after a misdiagnosis.
By JAMIE THOMPSON
Published July 23, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Kaleesa Rusiecki knew her 15-month-old son wasn't feeling well that April morning. He didn't eat much oatmeal, and seemed to cling to her more tightly.
By that afternoon, he had vomited three times. She drove him to the emergency room at All Children's Hospital.
Doctors told her he would be okay, Rusiecki said. But after midnight, Andrew's lips turned blue. By 4 a.m., he was gone.
Rusiecki and her husband believe their son's death in 2002 could have been prevented. This week, a Pinellas jury agreed, awarding them $15-million.
The six jurors found an emergency room doctor, Danuta Jackson-Curtis, negligent in Andrew's death.
"When you're in a hospital, you know, you feel safe," Rusiecki said in a pretrial deposition. "You think, "I'm in the best place that I can be.' "
The Rusieckis said Jackson-Curtis failed to properly diagnose Andrew's respiratory problems when he was suffering from congestive heart failure.
The couple also alleged that Jackson-Curtis abandoned Andrew for a roughly two-hour period.
Jackson-Curtis denied the charges. She said she went to check on other patients, and knew that medical residents were with Andrew, talking to his mother and examining him. She said she thought he was in stable condition.
Jackson-Curtis ran a practice with her husband in Clearwater but also did regular shifts in the emergency room at All Children's Hospital as part of her contract with a Tennessee-based company, Team Health, which outsources physicians to hospitals.
Both Jackson-Curtis and Team Health Inc. were held liable for Andrew's death. All Children's reached a settlement with the family before the trial, according to court records.
During the seven-day trial in Judge Brandt Downey's Clearwater courtroom, jurors listened to the story of what happened on April 29, 2002.
Rusiecki said she woke in her home about 6:30 or 7 a.m., checked on Andrew, and realized he had vomited.
Rusiecki, just 15 months into motherhood, didn't panic. Andrew already had been through two colds and the chicken pox, and she knew to wait a little while before calling the doctor. Perhaps his bedtime bottle of milk hadn't settled.
He had oatmeal and juice for breakfast, then half a hot dog for lunch. Shortly afterward, he vomited again.
But he didn't look sick, Rusiecki said in a deposition. He still smiled and tried to play with their dog, Max.
Later, Andrew vomited again. She called the pediatrician and made an appointment for the next day. If he kept vomiting, they said, take him to the emergency room.
Rusiecki gave him a bath about 7 p.m. Andrew normally splashed, but he was quiet. She decided then to take him to the hospital.
She called her husband, Marek. He worked in his auto repair shop all morning and then drove cabs until 4 a.m. in St. Petersburg. He said he would meet her there.
At the hospital, Andrew threw up in the parking lot.
Rusiecki walked in after 8 p.m., Andrew lying on her shoulder. The nurse said his vital signs appeared fine, according to Rusiecki.
Andrew remained in the emergency room. Nurses gave him breathing treatments after detecting a slight wheezing. They took X-rays of Andrew, and then a doctor, Jackson-Curtis, told the parents everything looked fine, according to the Rusieckis.
Still, they wanted to keep him overnight.
Marek Rusiecki and his wife had a 15-minute dinner in the cafeteria, then he returned to work.
Rusiecki cradled Andrew in the emergency room. He finally seemed sleepy, and she felt calm.
She waited and waited. About 1 a.m., Jackson-Curtis returned, looked at Andrew, then said, "Take this baby to trauma," according to Rusiecki.
There, a respiratory therapist put a mask on Andrew for another breathing treatment. Rusiecki was cradling him, and the mask kept coming off. She tried to put it back on and saw his lips were turning blue. Then he stopped breathing.
All Rusiecki remembers is hospital employees ushering her out of the room. She passed out, and woke in a room full of family members. Doctors were still working on her son.
At some point, a doctor emerged. "I'm sorry," he said.
It was 3:50 a.m.
Rusiecki held her son for a half hour. She passed him around, giving everyone in the family a chance to say goodbye. Then she sat with him alone for a while.
At home, she crawled into bed.
The funeral and burial passed in a blur.
She had lingering concerns about what happened at the hospital. She took her son's autopsy report to his pediatrician. He didn't have any answers.
She hired Tampa lawyer Michael Trentalange, who said the doctor diagnosed Andrew's respiratory distress as acute bronchospasm, when it actually was a result of congestive heart failure brought on by a condition called lymphocytic myocarditis.
The jury awarded the St. Petersburg couple compensatory damages for Andrew's funeral costs, as well as $7.5-million to each parent for the loss of their son. The jury did not consider punitive damages.
Rusiecki, 36, used to visit her son's grave every day. Now, she goes only when she feels strong enough. Sometimes, she has a companion. Her second son, Daniel, is now two years old.
Jamie Thompson can be reached at href=mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com or 727 893-8455.
[Last modified July 23, 2005, 00:52:10]
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