By Deborah Gardner
(In 2007, an Iowa jury awarded Nathan and Deborah $13.5 million, believed to be the largest award in a birth injury case in the state’s history.)
My son can’t walk, talk, sit up or use his hands, but he’s exceptionally bright. He smiles all the time. He’s happy. And he’s the highlight of my life.
I was 22 when Nathan was born five years ago. My pregnancy was normal but then my due date came and went. Two weeks later doctors decided to induce. The next day they decided to do a C-section. That’s when everything started going wrong.
The spinal anesthetic caused my blood pressure to drop; then the incision wasn’t big enough. They tried the vacuum three or four times. They made the incision bigger, and cut through things they shouldn’t have. I started hemorrhaging. I remember seeing a first year resident pass out against the wall. All the while, they weren’t monitoring Nathan’s heartbeat. They didn’t know he was in trouble.
When Nathan was born he wasn’t breathing. By the time he was resuscitated, he had been without oxygen for 23 minutes. Except for passing him in the hall once, I didn’t see him again until four days later. That night, while I stroked his head in the neonate intensive care unit, he coded. The doctor tapped into his chest with a needle four or five times and he came back to me.
Nathan weighed 12 pounds 2 ounces and was 23 ¼ inches long when he was born. He was a big guy! But nothing seemed to soothe him. We left the hospital when he was 19 days old.
Three months later we moved to Kansas. I knew something wasn’t right. He wasn’t meeting developmental milestones. A pediatrician sent us to the University of Kansas, where he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. First, you cry. You bawl. You ask yourself, “Why me?” But then I looked at Nathan and I thought, ‘He’s exactly the same kid he was before. Now you just know more.’
It became an ongoing battle to get what he needed. I was always fighting with occupational and physical therapists, who told me that he would be wheelchair-bound all his life and that it was hopeless to think he could use a walker. We finally moved back to Iowa so I could be near my mom, dad, brothers and sisters. My mom and my sister, especially, knew from the get-go something wasn’t right. They kept encouraging me to ask questions. So I started educating myself about cerebral palsy and what can cause it. I decided to make myself into the smartest person I knew. I started putting two and two together.
I eventually called an attorney who referred me to Ken Suggs. The whole team was terrific. Ken, who tried the case, was wonderful. He really cares about his clients. He absolutely fell for Nathan. After the verdict, one juror came up and hugged me and wished us well. All the jurors had smiles plastered on their faces when they walked out. I think they knew they’d done the right thing.
Basically, they concluded that the doctors and the hospital were negligent in waiting so long, making an inappropriate incision, taking 20 minutes to do a C-section that should’ve taken three to six minutes, and not monitoring Nathan’s heart beat.
It’s been a total rollercoaster; lots of stress and fighting for three years. I just kept thinking I needed to do the best I could for my kid. He didn’t ask to be born and he’s totally dependent on me, so I had to fight.
Now I can get the equipment and services I need to help make his life better, like a new wheelchair and someone to take care of him when I’m at work. Next year he’ll be in regular kindergarten. I’ve been able to get a wheelchair accessible van and a wheelchair accessible house. He’s on a new medication to help his muscles relax, and it seems to be helping him so much. I don’t have to spend every minute fighting to get these things for him.
It’s sad I had to go to the legal lengths I did. But up until the lawsuit, they (doctors and hospital staff) didn’t even remember Nathan being born! Now, (thanks to the verdict) I think the next time they find themselves in a similar situation, they’ll remember, and they’ll do it differently. Maybe my fight will save some other family from going through what we did. Maybe they’ll think, “It’s not just a job, it’s a life.”
Having Nathan has changed my life in so many ways. I went back to school and now I’m an LPN. It’s because of him I’ve learned not to lay back and let people walk on me.
Nathan can do so many things they didn’t think he ever would. Because he can’t use his arms, he has learned to use his feet. He picks up his matchstick cars that way. He’s learning to use a computer to talk, operating it with his head and his foot. He has a personality that doesn’t stop. He loves being around other kids and other people. He has such amazing determination!
After surviving the last three years, my advice to families is first, educate yourself; ask questions and be persistent. Second, find experts to help you, like the attorneys at Janet, Jenner and Suggs. They don’t charge you to look at your case. And third, don’t let anyone tell you that your kid can’t do something. Don’t give up on your kid. Miracles do happen. I see them all the time.