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After only 30 minutes of deliberation, a Baltimore jury has awarded $10 million to the family of a teen-ager who died after a hospital took four days to diagnose and begin treating his blood disorder. “This was a medical emergency and the hospital treated it like a bee sting,” said Bob Weltchek of Weiner and Weltchek in Lutherville, Md., the attorney for the youth’s family. But the attorney for the hospital, Natalie McSherry of Baltimore’s Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, said the key to the case was the sympathy the jury developed for the teen, Benjamin Strange, and his family. Despite the judge’s direction to be impartial, she said, telling jurors not to feel sympathy “is like telling them not to be human beings.” Some of the jurors hugged the teen’s parents outside court after the verdict was read. Weltchek, however, said “they lost the case on its merits, not on juror sympathy.” McSherry said that the defendant, the University of Maryland Medical System, had not decided whether to appeal the verdict, which followed an eight-day trial before Judge Joseph McCurdy of Baltimore Circuit Court. Strange v. University of Maryland Medical System, No. 24-C-01-003875. The jury awarded $6 million to Benjamin’s estate and $4 million to his parents. But Maryland law limits the amount of damages a family can collect — in this case $560,000 for the teen’s pain and suffering and $840,000 for the parents. The case began in July 1999, when Benjamin, a mildly retarded 19-year-old, had a seizure. A doctor found that he had a low blood platelet count. Platelets help the blood clot. On Sept. 8, he went to a hospital after experiencing vomiting, headache and fever. The next day he was transferred to the pediatric care unit at the University of Maryland hospital. Benjamin was seen by a blood specialist who wrote that he may have developed a blood disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura, or TTP, but he was not treated for it, according to the lawsuit. Doctors spent several days evaluating him for other possibilities before they realized he had TTP. He died just as they started administering the plasma that might have saved him. According to Weltchek, Benjamin would have had a 90 percent chance of surviving if he had been correctly diagnosed and given plasma immediately. TTP is a rare blood disorder but is in every medical textbook, said Weltchek, who read details from several medical texts during the trial. He added that the disorder is common enough that one of the jurors in the case had been treated for TTP. But McSherry said doctors didn’t believe Benjamin had TTP when he arrived at the hospital because he showed “a very unusual presentation of the disease.” She said “a lot of things pointed away from TTP. There were signs that were consistent with lupus that had to be ruled out that took doctors a couple of days to decide. Meanwhile, he had been stable, even flirting with the nurses.” Unfortunately, the university ran out of time while working him up, McSherry said. “Right up to the end, the doctors weren’t sure if was lupus or TTP and they started treatment for both” when he died. She also maintained that the cause of death was not clear: “The autopsy showed that he had extensive injuries to the brain and heart that predated his hospital admission.”

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