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Michelle McCord, then 28, went to the emergency room of St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., at 2:30 a.m. on May 9, 1988, with severe breathing problems. She was also making a high-pitched sound indicating a swelling of the larynx. She was intubated, but the process was difficult. The next day, medical personnel at St. Mary’s, trying to “wean her from the respirator,” took the tube out, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen E. Erickson. “She began wheezing,” and the high-pitched sound returned. This time, the attempt to intubate her was unsuccessful and a tracheotomy was performed. By then, however, she had gone several minutes without sufficient oxygen to the brain, causing respiratory arrest. She was revived but sustained permanent brain damage. “She can talk and walk but she can’t function on her own,” Erickson said. At the time, McCord was eight months pregnant; a cesarean section was performed that night. McCord’s guardians sued St. Mary’s, its parent, the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens, and Dr. Randahir Bajaj, who ordered the extubation. The plaintiffs charged that the doctor deviated from the standard of care in extubating a patient who had had difficulty during the initial intubation and in failing to perform a bedside tracheotomy. The defendants countered that the decision to extubate was reasonable “because she was clinically stable,” said defense attorney Henry Shaub, adding that McCord had a laryngospasm, a known complication of extubation. The defense also contended that any brain damage was caused by McCord’s longtime practice of free-basing crack cocaine, most recently before coming to St. Mary’s. On Nov. 9, a Brooklyn jury awarded McCord $114 million, the second-largest medical malpractice verdict in New York history. The award included $30 million in past and $70 million in future pain and suffering. The defense will file motions to alter the verdict; settlement negotiations are ongoing. Plaintiffs’ attorney: Stephen E. Erickson, Pegalis & Erickson, Lake Success, N.Y. Defense attorneys: Henry Shaub, Shaub, Ahmuty, Critrin & Spratt, New Hyde Park, N.Y.

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