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Jury awards $1.5 million in child death case

Posted on Dec 27, 2006

Jury awards $1.5 million in child death case LUMBERTON - A Robeson County jury recently awarded a Prospect couple $1.5 million in a negligence suit against Southeastern Regional Medical Center and Children's Health of Carolina, the corporation that owns Lumberton Children's Clinic. The lawsuit, filed in 2003 by Daniel and Melissa Pruitt, accused medical officials of failing to completely evaluate their 1-year-old daughter, Clarissa Julyan Pruitt, when she was admitted to SRMC on Sept. 17, 2001. The suit also claims that medical personnel did not respond to her symptoms. The child died the next day of cardiac failure and severe myocarditis, likely caused by a viral infection. Listed as defendants in the lawsuit are physician's assistant Steven D. Recker and pediatrician Dr. Sheridan Hernandez, both of whom were employed by Children's Health of Carolina at the time. They are no longer with the clinic. The lawsuit also listed SRMC as a defendant, but no individual hospital employees. Bill Faison, the couple's lawyer, said Clarissa was brought to the hospital with an excessively high heart rate, signs of respiratory distress and blueness around her mouth. An X-ray showed fluid collecting in her lungs, he said. “The picture of a child who has those vital signs and who has fluid collecting on her lungs is a child too sick to be at Southeastern Regional Medical Center,” Faison said. If Clarissa had been taken to Duke University Medical Center, she would likely have lived with the help of drugs to support her heart and suppress her immune system, which was attacking her heart to kill a virus, he said. “Experts testified she had a roughly 90 percent chance of survival, and 95 percent chance of survival with no problems,” Faison said. Faison said the Pruitts were satisfied with the verdict. The couple could not be reached for comment. SRMC spokesman Ann Stephens said the hospital doesn't plan to appeal the verdict. The hospital released a statement, expressing sympathy to the Pruitt family. “Following Clarissa's death, an internal review of her care while a patient at SRMC was conducted,” the statement said. “As a result, it is our belief that appropriate medical care was provided. SRMC remains committed to providing the highest quality care to its patients by continuously reviewing our standards of care. The death of a loved one is extremely difficult, and is especially tragic in the case of a child. We wish to again express our sincere sympathy to the Pruitt family. ” Timothy Bell, executive director for the Children's Health of Carolina, issued a similar statement. “Although we disagree with the verdict, it is our belief that excellent care was provided to this child,” Bell said in the statement. “Sadly, an extremely rare and devastating illness resulted in the ultimate outcome. When we are entrusted with the care of a child, we take this trust seriously and consider it a privilege to provide such care. When there is a poor outcome, we hurt along with the family. All involved in her care extend their deepest sympathy to the family.”

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