WEST CHESTER — A Chester County Court jury awarded $32.8 million to a young North Coventry girl who was born with brain damage at Phoenixville Hospital, finding negligence on the part of two nurses who were attending her pregnant mother.
The verdict came late Friday after the panel of eight men and four women deliberated more than nine hours in the case of Lily Ciechoski, who suffers from spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The jury found that the nurses had improperly failed to alert the girl’s mother’s doctor about a drastic change in the baby’s heart rate for 13 minutes during labor.
That failure and other delays in the delivery caused the baby to suffer the brain damage she now struggles with, said her attorney Jason Archinaco of the Pittsburgh law firm of Archinaco Bracken.
“I compare it to an airplane going into a nose dive for 13 minutes and no one telling the pilot,” Archinaco said in an interview Wednesday.
The jury found a third nurse involved in the delivery and the hospital itself not negligent in the case.
Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Shenkin, who presided over the two-week-long trial, had dismissed the mother’s doctor as a defendant in mid-trial. The two nurses were represented by the hospital’s attorney, Andrew McCumber of Eagleville. They no longer work at the hospital.
McCumber, who was in Florida at his firm’s office there, could not be reached for comment.
The $32.8 million awarded by the jury is thought to be among the largest ever awarded in Chester County, which has a reputation as a jurisdiction not very hospitable to medical malpractice cases. It is similar to the $78.5 million verdict handed down by a Philadelphia jury against Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in 2012 for a similarly delayed delivery of a baby who suffered brain damage, much like Lily.
Both hospitals are owned by Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn., which owns, leases and operates 135 hospitals in 29 states, including Brandywine Hospital in Caln and Jennersville Regional Hospital in Penn.
Lily’s mother, Leslie Proffitt of North Coventry, was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 13, 2009, for her delivery, according to Archinaco. She did not have major concerns about the pregnancy and was near her due date when she went into labor.
According to a timeline offered by Archinaco at trial, about 1:07 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2009, the baby’s heart rate dropped significantly, from about 150 beats per minutes, which is normal, to 60 beats per minute. The attorney said it was likely that the heart rate dropped because oxygen to the baby’s brain had been blocked by a kink in its umbilical cord.
Two nurses, Christine Winter and Lana Jones-Sandy, noticed the drop in the heart rate on a monitor but did not tell Proffitt’s OB-GYN, Dr. Amy Cadieux, about the change. The doctor came into Proffitt’s room about 1:20 a.m. and saw the change, immediately asking the nurses to notify their supervisor and get an anesthesiologist so that she could perform an emergency Cesarean section delivery.
But Archinaco told the jury that the supervisor was not contacted until 1:29 a.m., and that an anesthesiologist was not located until 1:36 a.m. Lily was delivered at 1:49 a.m.
Archinaco said that he had presented expert testimony at the trial that had Lily been delivered between 15 and 17 minutes earlier, she would have suffered either minimal brain damage or none at all
He said that Lily, who appeared at the trial taking a few steps toward her mother to demonstrate her physical limitations, suffers from spasms in her legs and arms and has difficulty controlling her neck. She can speak very little, and has trouble walking as well.
“It is very hard for her to do anything,” he said. “She can only speak about six words. It is hard for her to walk and talk.” But he said Proffitt and Lily’s father, Joseph Ciechoski, who are due to be married in August, are working diligently with her and she has shown some improvement in her skills. She is enrolled at the Arc of Chester County, a West Goshen school for developmentally and physically disabled children.
Included in the award were more than $31 million in future medical expenses, $1 million for past and future non-economic damages and $800,000 for future lost earning capacity, according to Archinaco and Robert Bracken co-lead trial counsel. Attorney Warren Hampton, of Hampton & McCreary of South Coventry, was also co-counsel.
“This verdict essentially enables her parents to give her the best care and the best chance for recovery,” Archinaco said. “I think the jury found that this was not up to the standard of care in Chester County. They didn’t give up on this little girl. They spoke for her.”
Information from the Daily Local News, www.dailylocal.com