Lauricella & McLaughlin win $17 million suit against New Jersey doctor; Neptune, New Jersey based Meridian Pediatric Associates; and Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

The following is a reprint from author, Karen Wall and
Additional Reading / Reprint: Article Reprint: New Jersey Law Journal

Kelsey Heaney was 7 at the time of the injury, suffered at Jersey Shore University Medical Center; Hackensack Meridian plans to appeal.

Like most 16-year-olds, Kelsey Heaney gets up and attends classes in high school every day. Unlike many of her peers, however, she has to work twice as hard — at least — to accomplish what she wants to do.

brain-injured negligence new jersey doctor“I can’t get what’s in here,” she said, pointing to her head, “out here,” as she gestured to the desktop in front of her. Heaney told a Monmouth County jury how damage to her thalamus — the portion of the brain that processes information from the senses — has affected her daily life since she suffered the damage as a seven-year-old.

According to a negligence lawsuit filed by her family, the damage occurred when a doctor at Jersey Shore University Medical Center removed her from a ventilator while she was still sedated, causing her heart to stop long enough to damage the thalamus.

On Thursday, after a six-week trial, that jury found in favor of the Wall Township teenager, awarding her $17 million for her pain and suffering and for medical care she will need for the rest of her life, Paul A. Lauricella, the Heaneys’ attorney, said Friday.

The judgement was against Dr. Charles K. Dadzie and Neptune-based Meridian Pediatric Associates, and Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, where Heaney was treated for pneumonia in 2008.

Donna Sellman, a spokesperson for Hackensack Meridian Health, which Jersey Shore is part of and where Dadzie practices, issued a one-sentence statement about the jury’s award: “We disagree and are disappointed with the outcome of the lawsuit and will be filing an appeal.”

A phone number listed online for Dadzie rang at least 10 times with no answer.

Heaney was hospitalized in 2008 with pneumonia and underwent surgery to remove a small piece of her lung that was very diseased and beyond the point where it could be effectively treated with antibiotics, said Lauricella, of McLaughlin & Lauricella of Philadelphia. He and his partner, Slade McLaughlin, both represented the family in court.

After Kelsey Heaney underwent the surgery, the lawsuit alleges, Dadzie, a pediatric pulmonologist, supervised the removal of the then seven-year-old from the ventilator, which she had been on while sedated for 10 days. The lawsuit alleges Dadzie removed the ventilator without properly weaning Kelsey off the sedation, and then failed to adequately watch her to ensure she started breathing on her own, Lauricella said.

“A sleeping sedated patient can’t protect their airway,” Lauricella said, and the result was not only was she not breathing, but her heart stopped. “They had to shock her three times” to bring her back, he said.

She was out of it for a total of 35 minutes, Lauricella said, and suffered damage to the thalamus. Consequently, Kelsey struggles with things that most 16-year-olds routinely do every day, her mother, Kristen Heaney, said. That was visible in court when Kelsey testified, Lauricella and Kristen Heaney said. When Kelsey was told to raise her right hand to be sworn in, she raised her left.

“It has to do with the processing issues,” Kristen said. Kelsey has undergone significant amounts of therapy to continue to improve from and learn how to live with the injury, which has affected her short-term memory. In the past, Kelsey loved to dance and took lessons for tap, ballet, jazz and modern. She’d go every week, learning new steps to add to the old.

Now she struggles with everyday tasks.

“She doesn’t have that multi-step sequencing in processing,” which allows most people to learn new skills quickly, Kristin said. A paraprofessional accompanies her throughout the school day at Wall High School, helping her with daily challenges.

“Kelsey always will have to have a support system for the rest of her life,” her mother said. “She’s gone through years of therapy to get where she is now. She had a future that was boundless that has been taken away from her.”

The award will ensure the teenager always has care and support while she continues to strive for an independent life, Kristen said.

“She’s been robbed of a childhood, robbed of an adolescence,” Lauricella said, because Dadzie’s actions in removing the ventilator without properly ensuring Kelsey was able to breath on her own were “tantamount to running a medical red light.”

“I don’t think he (Dadzie) is a bad guy,” Lauricella said. “I think he made a mistake. Even good doctors make mistakes.”

Article Reprint
By Karen Wall (Patch Staff) – Updated Oct 27, 2017
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