GRAHAM — A Burlington family is suing Alamance Regional Medical Center claiming medical staff let a newborn’s routine problem with breastfeeding spiral into life-altering brain damage, and blaming the Cone Health takeover for creating the atmosphere where that could happen.
According to the suit filed Wednesday, Oct. 4, in Alamance County Superior Court, Frances Fraune gave birth to a 6-pound 8-ounce boy via a routine, elective cesarean section Aug. 22, 2013. There were no abnormal vital signs or issues with the fetal heart rate, and the baby’s Apgar score measuring respiration also was normal.
Problems, according to the suit, started when Fraune tried to breastfeed. The mother was producing little milk, and the child had trouble latching on from the beginning. A little more than 36 hours later, the baby weighed 5 pounds 14 ounces — a loss of more than 9 percent of his body weight. Breastfed newborns aren’t supposed to lose more than 7 percent of their body weight, according to American Academy of Pediatrics figures cited in the suit.
Early on the morning of Aug. 24, the suit reads, the baby’s body temperature dropped to 97.9 degrees, and at 9:57 a.m. the boy stopped breathing, his oxygen level was 72 percent, and his blood sugar was dangerously low at 11 milligrams per deciliter of blood.
After he stopped breathing two more times in the next 20 minutes, the suit reads, the baby was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit, though, the suit alleges, not only was the doctor caring for the little boy not told he was malnourished, he was told verbally that “there was good intake.”
The boy was tested for sepsis or a blood infection, and diagnosed with low blood sugar and severe malnutrition only after infection was ruled out. The baby was stabilized after he was put on intravenous fluids and supplements.
The parents were told the baby was malnourished, according to the suit, but not that he was dehydrated or had dangerously low blood sugar.
A doctor recommended giving the boy an ultrasound later in the week, though, according to the suit, an MRI is the standard tool to check for brain injuries from severely low blood sugar. It appears neither test was done, or the results weren’t recorded and the parents allege they weren’t told the results.
The doctor also recommended getting the boy evaluated at the developmental clinic, but the recommendation was not passed on to the family, according to the suit, and there was no referral.
By the time the boy was 2, it was obvious he was not meeting speech and language milestones, according to the suit, and by the time he was 4, he was evaluated and found to have an IQ of 69.
It was only after the boy showed signs of delayed development that the parents saw the medical records showing the extent of his problems while he was in the hospital, the suit reads.
The family is charging ARMC with negligence for having incompetent, untrained staff who didn’t follow standard nursing procedures, provide the baby with adequate food, keep accurate medical records, respond to recorded problems or tell the family what was happening or what they could do about it.
The suit even alleges staff members added false reports of good food intake to the chart, including feedings the mother says never happened.
The suit alleges that the hospital merger in spring 2013 caused a lot of the problems with the nursing staff at ARMC because, beginning in early May 2013, there were many staffing changes, and people who had been at ARMC for years were fired or pushed out, causing emotional insecurity and distraction among the medical staff, and preoccupying the hospital administration with business rather than medical matters.
The family is seeking money for current and future medical expenses, and compensation for emotional distress, pain and suffering.
Doug Allred, external communications manager for Cone Health, informed the Times-News by email that the company has not yet been served with this suit.
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