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Originally published October 1, 2010 at 10:04 PM | Page modified October 1, 2010 at 10:06 PM

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Boy's brain injury puts focus on Seattle Children's hospital again

The recent deaths of two babies under the care of Seattle Children's hospital has prompted a Seattle father to speak out, saying his family is still waiting for answers about why their 2-year-old son was left with irreversible brain damage after heart surgery at the hospital earlier this year.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The recent deaths of two babies under the care of Seattle Children's hospital has prompted a Seattle father to speak out, saying his family is still waiting for answers about why their 2-year-old son was left with irreversible brain damage after heart surgery at the hospital earlier this year.

Osman Ali, who was born with a heart defect "but was doing everything that a normal child" that age would do, lost his ability to see, speak and walk after the Feb. 5 surgery at Children's, said his father, Nasir Ali.

Ali has hired an attorney to determine what went wrong.

Ali said he's met several times with Children's doctors who, he says, have told him they don't know why this happened to his son.

Since Osman was released from the hospital several months ago, Children's has provided in-home care for him 16 hours a day, seven days a week, said Ali. "They told me it's a compassionate offer."

The hospital declined Friday to comment on the case, saying it needed more time to review it.

Tim Church, spokesman for the state Department of Health, said Children's has not reported the case to the state.

By law, hospitals are required to notify the department about "adverse events," medical errors that "could and should have been avoided," according to the department's website.

Church said he only learned of the case Friday through a media inquiry. While unfortunate, the case may not have resulted from a medical error, he said. "An adverse event has to meet very specific criteria," he said. "Something can go wrong, and it might not be an adverse event."

The Ali family spoke out about their son a day after Children's held a news conference Thursday evening regarding the death of a newborn Sept. 17. That case came to light days after the hospital notified staff about the death of an 8-month-old girl on Sept. 19.

The newborn was being transported from another hospital to Children's in Children's neonatal ambulance when a staff member gave the newborn medication without a doctor's orders.

The 8-month-old baby died after being given an overdose of calcium chloride. The hospital has not reported the newborn's death as an adverse event, saying the cause of death is not yet known. But it has reported the older baby's death as an adverse event.

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Also at the Thursday news conference, the hospital disclosed a recent incident in which an adult in extreme respiratory distress arrived at Children's emergency room and was given an intravenous shot that should have been injected into muscle tissue. The adult survived.

The Department of Health is looking into the deaths of both babies and reportedly also has begun an investigation into the medication error involving the adult.

Osman Ali was born with pulmonary stenosis, a condition in which blood flow from the heart is obstructed at the valve, his father said.

The surgery done in February was a catheterization, which involves inserting a tube into a blood vessel and expanding a balloon attached to its tip. Ali and Thomas Vertetis, the family's Tacoma lawyer, said the balloon burst, causing an aneurysm and internal bleeding.

"The likelihood of this happening was very, very low," said Vertetis, whose practice has consulted numerous medical experts as part of its investigation.

"What we're looking at is the choice of the procedure, how the procedure was done, and the care that was provided to Osman after the aneurysm was detected," Vertetis said

Cardiologists at Children's performed a catheterization on Osman when he was 3 months old, Ali said. After determining the first procedure did not produce the expected results, Osman had open-heart surgery three months later.

Although the surgery was successful, doctors said they needed to perform another catheterization to treat areas of his heart that were out of the surgeon's reach, according to Ali.

Ali said he believes Children's is withholding information from him and that he has sent a letter of inquiry to the Department of Health, but he has not received a response.

Church, the department spokesman, said he was unaware of the letter.

Ali said that the day before the surgery he was kicking around a soccer ball with his son. All he wants now are answers, he said.

At Thursday's news conference, Dr. David Fisher, Children's medical director, emphasized that Children's remains a safe facility, one that sees about a thousand children a day.

The hospital has been reviewing its safety policies and systems, he said, and this week more than 1,000 staffers have attended mandatory sessions. He said the hospital also is taking immediate action in allowing only pharmacists and anesthesiologists to prepare doses of calcium chloride in nonemergency situations.

Further, he said, the hospital, at a date not yet set, will suspend all nonemergency operations, including outpatient clinics and elective surgeries, to review patient-safety practices in an attempt to find areas of weakness.

Sean Collins Walsh: 206-464-3195 or swalsh@seattletimes.com

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