Family relieved to receive $5M settlement in girl's TB disability case

kcarlson@modbee.comJuly 9, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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    E-mail: kcarlson@modbee.com

Vidal Garcia mainly expressed relief over a $5 million medical malpractice settlement approved Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

The settlement creates trust funds that will ensure his 17-year-old daughter, Ivette, will receive the care she needs for a cervical spine that was virtually destroyed by untreated tuberculosis. Beside providing for nursing care, the funds can pay for a van for transporting the girl to school or the purchase of a home equipped to accommodate her disabilities, said her attorney, David Rancano of Modesto.

"What happened to my daughter should never happen to (anyone's) children," Garcia said after the court hearing. "Spinal tuberculosis is a very preventable and curable disease, a disease that should have been easily diagnosed, especially here in this great nation that we live in."

Tuesday's court hearing resolves what attorneys on both sides called a heart-wrenching case and calls attention to a disease presumed to be a past health menace in the United States.

The September 2011 lawsuit charged that health care providers failed to recognize the girl was suffering from Pott's disease, which occurs when the tuberculosis bacterium lodges in the spinal cord.

The lawsuit sought damages from Sierra Health Center of Modesto, Modesto Advanced Imaging Center, Drs. Harish Porecha and Douglas Tait, and nurse practitioner Larry Kilgore. Dr. Michael Brodie was dismissed from the case because he had no contact with the patient.

Attorneys said many terms of the settlement were confidential. Rancano said malpractice insurers will cover the settlement costs.

Required test proved positive

The parents took Ivette to Sierra Health Center on Tully Road after her TB skin test required for school was positive, indicating that she had been exposed to the contagious disease. Rancano said she was not treated with antibiotics for the appropriate time and never was given diagnostic scans that are considered standard for detecting Pott's disease.

Garcia said Ivette was taken to doctors for months as she lost weight and complained of neck pain. Some suggested that her neck hurt because she carried a backpack to school, he said.

In August 2010, Ivette was in line at her high school to pick up schedules for the start of school. She collapsed to the floor when a vertebra in her neck ruptured.

The girl was taken to the Kaiser hospital emergency room in Modesto, where an MRI revealed an abnormality in her cervical spine, and she was airlifted to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto.

There, she was diagnosed with Pott's disease and the proper treatment was started to rid her body of TB. Garcia said the disease had caused severe damage to Ivette's spinal cord, paralyzing her legs and causing her to lose function in her arms and hands.

Ivette sat in a power chair next to her father in court Tuesday. The high school senior told Judge Roger Beauchesne that she wants to become a cartoonist and later said she hopes to attend college to study art.

She is expected to require nursing care and extensive medical treatment for the rest of her life. The court directed $106,000 of the settlement to satisfy a state Medi-Cal program lien to recover expenses of the girl's care.

"My daughter became a victim at the hands of careless doctors," Garcia said. "This should have never happened. I cannot give my daughter the life that she once had, but what I can give her is the assurance that I will continue to advocate on her behalf."

No sign of disease in lungs

Scott Ginns, a Lodi attorney for Sierra Health Center, said it turned out the girl had active tuberculosis but X-rays had shown no signs of the disease in her lungs. He said his clients who run the health center expressed sympathy for the family and settled the case to ensure funds were available for her future care.

"Pott's disease is an extremely rare condition, but Sierra Health Center is using this as a learning experience and they have taken steps to ensure nothing like this will happen in the future," Ginns said.

An attorney representing Modesto Advanced Imaging did not return a call requesting comment. A Stockton law firm representing Tait declined to talk about the case.

Rancano said it's not known how the girl was exposed to TB. The lethal disease was brought under control in the United States more than 50 years ago but is still common in many parts of the world.

With five to 20 cases per year, Stanislaus is considered a low incidence county for TB. The disease is spread by droplets when an infected person coughs.

A positive skin test means the person has been exposed to TB but may not signal an active case. The county advises those people to see a doctor, who will review their history for signs of active TB.

Prevette said TB was a contributing factor in three deaths in the county in the past five years.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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