Courts - Maryland Teenager who doesn't age wins bruising suit against Johns Hopkins

By Danny Jacobs

The Daily Record Newswire

BALTIMORE, MD -- A teenager internationally known for never having aged past infancy has been awarded $250,000 after a Baltimore city jury found she was inappropriately restrained at The Johns Hopkins Hospital following a 2007 procedure.

The parents and home nurse of Brooke Greenberg discovered bruising on Brooke's arms and legs after she returned home from surgery to replace her feeding tube. A jury of four women and two men in Baltimore City Circuit Court determined Friday the hospital's breach of the standard of care caused the bruising and awarded damages for both physical pain and emotional anguish.

Nolan J. Weltchek, one of the lawyers for the family, said the verdict was "cathartic" for Howard and Melanie Greenberg. The family wanted to find the cause of Brooke's injuries, said Weltchek, of Weltchek Mallahan & Weltchek LLC in Lutherville.

"The part that was so difficult for them to come to grips with was there was no explanation provided," he said. "They were looking for an apology or an affirmation it wouldn't happen again."

The hospital denies any abuse took place but has not decided whether to appeal the verdict, according to a written statement provided by a spokesman. Steven A. Hamilton and Karen R. Turner of Hamilton Altman Canale & Dillon LLC in Bethesda represented Hopkins at trial.

"We remain confident that the care this child received at Hopkins was compassionate, caring and appropriate," the hospital's statement says. "Johns Hopkins has cared compassionately for Brooke Greenberg during her multiple hospitalizations at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and her condition is both complex and heartbreaking."

Brooke Greenberg turned 17 last month but looks and acts like a normal infant. She has been the subject of numerous news stories and documentaries, including a TLC special, "Child Frozen in Time." Scientists continue to study her DNA to learn more about her aging process and in an attempt to explain her condition, as she has never been diagnosed with any type of genetic mutation.

Doctors at Hopkins had cared for Brooke when she experienced health problems early in her life, and she was a familiar face by the time she arrived for surgery March 12, 2007, with her own special crib and swing at the hospital, according to the lawsuit originally filed five months later. No complications from the surgery were reported, Weltchek said.

Howard Greenberg arrived at the hospital the next morning to find his daughter "in an agitated state, sitting unattended in a swing in the hospital corridor," according to the complaint. Brooke was seen by a family pediatrician, who alerted Hopkins about the bruising, according to the complaint.

The hospital says it followed its policy and reported the bruising to the city's Child Protective Services, which investigated the matter along with police and the state's attorney's office. No evidence of abuse was found. Counts in the lawsuit alleging battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress were dismissed prior to the trial, leaving only a medical malpractice claim.

Brooke remained agitated March 14, at which point the Greenbergs obtained their daughter's medical records and learned there was no mention of bruising in the hours following her surgery, the lawsuit states.

It was not until March 15 that a nurse added a March 12 entry in Brooke's medical records noting the bruising, a change the nurse admitted making in an affidavit, the lawsuit states. The hospital says Brooke had a medical history of bruising.

The Hopkins nurses who cared for Brooke were called as adverse witnesses during the eight-day trial before Judge Shirley M. Watts and provided conflicting testimonies, Weltchek said. The plaintiffs also produced pictures and video of Brooke's injuries.

"The alteration of the medical records in conjunction with the photographic evidence pointed to the fact that something that shouldn't have happened did happen," said Weltchek, who worked on the case with his father, Bob.

As for the source of the injuries, the hospital's statement said "the unique and complex nature of Brooke's condition gives rise to reasons for both explained an unexplained bruising, none of which is associated with negligent treatment."

Howard and Melanie Greenberg and Brooke's nurse testified the child's demeanor noticeably changed following the surgery, as the normally friendly Brooke became withdrawn and afraid of strangers, Weltchek said.

"Why was she so severely affected for weeks and months after the surgery?" Weltchek said. "That was the piece of the puzzle I don't think [Hopkins] could explain."

The Greenbergs severed ties with Hopkins following the March 2007 surgery, Weltchek added. The family now takes Brooke to Sinai Hospital for any medical issues and has given a team of geneticists in North Carolina the rights to study her.

Published: Mon, Feb 15, 2010

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