Irate mother says hospital lied

Published May 31, 2007

The mother of a 10-year-old boy getting court-ordered cancer treatment is blasting the doctors and nurses who testified against her at a hearing this week.

In an interview Wednesday, Natasha Esteras, accused of interfering with her son Daniel Gomez's treatment, said she met with Marty Clayton, director of risk management at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, and a senior level nurse May 25 to express her frustration at the staff's "rude" and "slow" approach to caring for her son.

Hospital spokesman Roy Adams confirmed the meeting occurred but said the hospital wouldn't comment on anything said at that meeting or at Tuesday's court hearing in front of Judge Linda H. Babb.

The judge allowed Esteras to keep her son when state attorneys petitioned to shelter him, but she said she might reconsider if reports of Esteras' interference continue.

Esteras, 26, said she was outraged that the state tried to put Daniel in a shelter. She said she believes the doctors are tired of her asking questions about the treatment they give him. She said they just want her out of the way.

"They don't want to deal with me anymore, " she said. "They just have to take my son away and I'm out of the picture. It's not about saving Daniel, it's about getting me out of his life."

Several doctors and nurses testified on speaker phone at Tuesday's hearing and discussed Esteras and her fiance, Daniel Vasquez. They said Esteras had rejected treatment for her son and physically interfered on one occasion. They also said the couple had made remarks about the uselessness of the treatment in front of Daniel.

The testimony resulted in a stricter court order, which now allows doctors to treat Daniel without speaking to Esteras and puts the court in charge of any decisions on emergency care. Esteras said she will comply with the order so she can keep Daniel.

But that doesn't mean she's happy with it.

"The testimonies were lies. All lies, " she said. "I speak, but I don't get in the way. I've never told them to stop. ... It's just crazy how these people say they care about my son. It's a lie. If you care about Daniel, you wouldn't be trying to take him out of his home. All that's going to do is ruin my son's life."

Esteras said one of the nurses who testified has yelled at Daniel. She also said the nurses have taken 15 or 20 minutes to respond to her son when he calls them.

She said this behavior prompted her to meet with the hospital officials last week.

"I asked the director, 'How does your nurse know that my son isn't in dire need of assistance?' " she said. "The nurse's duty is to get up and see what the patient needs, not go in on her own time. If something happens to my son, then what?"

Adams said the officials listened to her concerns and will continue to meet with her as long as Daniel is a patient there.

Esteras said she's been trying to get Daniel's treatment transferred back to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his testicles in February. The hospital is closer to the Lutz home Esteras shares with her parents, fiance and three children.

Esteras is also trying to get Medicaid to cover Daniel's bills. She said she has a pile of hospital bills totaling about $50, 000, which she can't pay. She applied for Medicaid two weeks ago, but the process takes 45 days.

At Tuesday's hearing, Babb advised her to keep hounding Medicaid, but Esteras said she has done the best she can.

Esteras said it's hard when she has Daniel and two more kids to look after, and she recently had a medical scare. When Daniel went in for a blood transfusion May 21, her blood pressure went up, her chest tightened and she had difficulty breathing, so All Children's Hospital rushed her to Bayfront Hospital, where doctors determined the episode occurred because of stress. She was released in about five hours and went back to All Children's Hospital to be with Daniel, she said.

Still, Daniel has borne the greatest weight. She said treatment has taken away part of his life because he's often cooped up all day in a hospital room. Esteras said she is looking into alternative treatment centers in other states, but until she finds one that's suitable, Daniel will have to continue his treatment in Florida.

In an interview Wednesday, Daniel said he misses being outside and playing baseball and football with his friends. He has to be cautious not to play too hard. He has missed a lot of school this semester, but he'll be in the fourth grade this fall, he said.

Daniel also complained about doctors giving him "attitude" and nurses taking "forever" to help him.

"It's hard, " he said. "It's a lot of stuff I have to go through. It takes a lot out of me."