A delivery too late

Times Staff Writer

On April 1, 1999, Veronica Melendez was in labor at King/Drew when her baby's heart rate began to slow, a possible sign of fetal distress. She was sent to the operating room for a caesarean.

En route, however, doctors diverted the 22-year-old to a delivery room for another attempt to deliver the boy without surgery. There, doctors used forceps to try to free him, an analysis of the case by attorneys for the county found.

The effort failed. A C-section was finally done, but the baby had suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen, according to the county analysis. The family says no one at the hospital told them anything was seriously wrong.

Today, Brandon Echeverria has cerebral palsy and needs braces to walk. He can make sounds, but can't say much. He attends a special school for children with disabilities. He is adept at video games.

"He still needs help with everything," his mother says. "But I think he's very smart. Everything I say to him, he tries to say. When his father does something funny, he laughs."

Brandon's disability has altered his parents' plans to move back to their native Mexico. Care is better in the United States, they say.

The family settled a malpractice suit against the county for $1.2 million in 2002.

In their analysis of the case, attorneys for the county told the Board of Supervisors that experts would criticize the delay in the C-section.

In addition to Brandon's case, the supervisors since 1997 have approved three other settlements totaling nearly $4.4 million in lawsuits involving newborns harmed by C-section delays at King/Drew.

The settlement money for Brandon's care has gone into a trust fund. It helps.

Still, says his mother, "we're not going to get back what was done to him."

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