A King County Superior court judge awarded $15.2 million Friday to an 8-year-old Snoqualmie girl after a University of Washington doctor working at Seattle Children’s Hospital mistakenly recommended an over-the-counter medication that left her permanently brain damaged.
MacKenzie Briant was just 4 years old when she came down with a cold and stuffy nose. Her mom called Seattle Children’s Transplant Service where MacKenzie received care. The young girl had undergone a heart transplant as an infant.
The mother’s call was returned by Dr. Cory Noel, a UW cardiology fellow working in the Transplant Service.
Noel then spoke to MacKenzie’s cardiologist, Dr. Yuk Law, who provided treatment suggestions to Noel and specifically warned that MacKenzie should not be given Afrin, a decongestant, because it could cause heart problems, according to court documents.
But Dr. Noel misunderstood, and instead told MacKenzie’s mother to give the child Afrin. MacKenzie suffered a cardiac arrest soon after being given the drug.
“The medical literature is clear. Giving a heart-transplant patient a dose of Afrin is unacceptable,” said Briant family attorney Ralph Brindley. “It was unbelievable. Because of the cardiac arrest she was without oxygen for a substantial period of time and suffered a severe brain injury.”
While both Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington ultimately admitted there was negligence on the part of at least one of the doctors, they “steadfastly argued that the Afrin was not the cause of MacKenzie’s cardiac event, although she coded soon after her mother administered the dose,” Brindley said.
MacKenzie spent nearly two months in the hospital before she was released.
“It’s taken an incredible toll,” said MacKenzie’s mother, Elaine Briant. “She cannot move with purpose, she cannot communicate other than making some noises that we try very hard to decipher, she is fed through her stomach, she requires 24 hour care. It’s just changed the whole way our family lives.”
Elaine is hopeful the settlement will help the family provide better care and pursue further treatment options for MacKenzie, although the outlook is far from bright.
“Her quality of life is our biggest concern and helping her regain any mental function that we can.”
Still, Elaine said the family doesn’t blame Seattle Children’s or Dr. Law, who specifically advised not to give MacKenzie the Afrin and remains Mackenzie’s cardiologist.
“We respect Children’s Hospital, we think it’s a wonderful teaching hospital and we still go there today.”
In a statement, The University of Washington expressed sadness over the girl’s brain injury. But it said “We believe that the use of Afrin, a commonly used over-the-counter cold remedy, did not lead to Mackenzie’s [cardiac] arrest; however the judge on this case ruled in favor of the plaintiff and her family.”
The statement said the case highlights “the critical need for all practitioners to use techniques to ‘close the loop’ on communications in the healthcare setting.” The university said it does not plan to appeal.
The award is one of the largest medical malpractice awards in state history, said Brindley.