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The federal government has agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a medical malpractice suit brought by the parents of a young Navajo boy permanently disabled by alleged errors during his treatment for a stomach ailment at a government hospital. The case is the last of three malpractice suits brought by Scott Borg of Rosenfelt, Barlow & Borg in Albuquerque, N.M., on behalf of Navajo families whose children died or were permanently disabled during treatment in hospitals operated by the Indian Health Service (IHS), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Dan v. U.S., No. CIV 01-025 MCA/LFG-ACE (D.N.M.). Spokespersons for both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Indian Health Service declined to comment on the Dan case. In each of the three cases, the children suffered brain damage during treatment in 1998. The other two cases are Garcia v. U.S., No. CIV 99 1301 SC, which the government settled for $485,000, and Quintana v. U.S., No. CIV 98 01491 MV, which the government settled for $585,000. Borg alleged that in each case medical staff negligently failed to make sure the boys had enough oxygen. Of the three children, all boys who were, coincidentally, named Eric, two died. The third, Eric Dan — the plaintiff in the most recent case — is almost completely paralyzed and has serious cognitive disabilities and impaired vision, Borg said. Eric Dan, then 4 years old, was brought to the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, N.M., on July 21, 1998, with severe stomach pains. His family lives in Red Mesa, Ariz., about 50 miles from the hospital and 10 miles from the nearest paved road. According to court papers, when the boy arrived at the hospital emergency room he had an infection, a swollen abdomen, was dehydrated and had both rapid respiration and a racing heart beat. He was diagnosed with a burst appendix and was taken into surgery for an appendectomy. A BOY IN TROUBLE Following surgery, the boy’s condition turned nearly fatal because hospital staff allegedly gave him too little antibiotics to treat his infection, known as sepsis, and insufficient fluids to treat his dehydration, Borg said. A nurse allegedly gave the boy “an excessive amount of morphine,” which suppressed his breathing, Borg said. The combination of sepsis and morphine resulted in a cardiorespiratory collapse, or “crash.” Hospital records noted that the attending physician, despite being paged twice while she was in a nearby area of the hospital, allegedly did not return to the intensive care unit for 20 minutes. A second physician making rounds in the intensive care unit inserted a breathing tube into Eric to assist his breathing. Soon afterward, Eric was taken by helicopter to the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) at the University of New Mexico Hospital, where, according to court documents, he was immediately determined to be in shock due to dehydration. According to Borg, written policy at the intensive care unit of the Northern Navajo Medical Center prohibited admitting patients below age 12. Young children were supposed to be stabilized and transferred to the pediatric ICU at the University of New Mexico. “The real issue is how the Indian Health Service provides medical care for Indian people on the reservation,” Borg asserted. “The quality of the care has a lot of problems.” Medical malpractice cases against the Indian Health Service are a “significant portion” of the caseload at Borg’s firm. He is already preparing three other medical malpractice cases against the Indian Health Service. Two cases involve children — one with hives from an insect bite, the other suffering a toothache — who died while being treated in IHS facilities. The third case involves a man who died from a heart attack while waiting for treatment. “These are three cases in just the last six months, and all three are egregious cases,” Borg said.

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