Lawyer: Baby Died Because of Doctors
The Times Leader - Wilkes-Barre, PA
Lawyer: Baby Died Because of Doctors
Joan and William Godlewski's attorney will say locked doors and miscommunication caused death of their infant daughter.
By Jerry Lynott
WILKES-BARRE - Locked operating room doors, hospital records that were allegedly falsified and a risky procedure to position one twin for birth are the key points in a medical malpractice trial that began Monday in the death of the infant.
Joan and William Godlewski of West Pittston are suing Dr. George Valenta, Dr. Robert Roe and Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township for the death of their daughter, Gina.
The infant suffered irreversible brain damage and died eight months after Valenta delivered her by emergency Caesarean-section at the medical center on Feb.21, 1998.
Joseph Quinn, the Godlewski's' attorney, alleges the brain damage occurred because Valenta waited 11 minutes after realizing the infant was in distress to order the C-section. When they got to the operating room it was locked, causing an additional delay until the keys could be found.
Valenta and Roe are also faulted for not following the mother's request for a C-section delivery from the outset. Had they done so, the death would not have occurred, Quinn told jurors in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. "We will prove to you that this tragedy was totally, totally avoidable," Quinn said at the start of the trial, expected to last three to four weeks.
Medical experts from across the country, Valenta and the Godlewski's are expected to testify about the procedures performed the morning of the births and the months leading up to the delivery of Gina and her brother, Jarod.
"This terrible result was not the result of terrible medicine. This terrible outcome was not the result of terrible medicine," countered lead defense counsel Allan Starr of Philadelphia.
Valenta did not act recklessly or negligently, Starr said. To this day, Valenta does not believe "there was a medical reason" to follow through with Godlewski's initial request for a C-section.
But Starr acknowledged there could have been better communication between hospital staff the morning of the delivery. "Things happened along the trail that I'm not going to try to justify."
The Godlewski's arrived at the hospital at about 4:30a.m. after Joan began having contractions. She was several weeks premature. At 10:07 a.m. Jarod was born vaginally, but Gina was not in position to move through the birth canal, Starr said.
Starr said Valenta believed Gina would get into position on her own, but a machine indicated there was a drop in heartbeat, and the doctor was not sure whether it was the baby's or the mother's. To get an accurate reading, Valenta placed a monitor on the baby's head inside the womb.
The monitor showed it was the child's heartbeat, and Valenta inserted his hand in the womb and "spent an agonizing few minutes trying to reach the (baby's) feet" to position her for delivery. The doctor then called for a C-section and Godlewski was transported to a nearby operating room, he said. "They got there, the doors were locked," Starr said.
The locks had been changed a few days earlier and they had to wait 30 to 60 seconds for someone to find a key. "It's something I wish hadn't happened that way."
Valenta delivered Gina within five minutes at 10:43 a.m., Starr said. By then, the baby had been deprived of needed oxygen and suffered irreversible brain damage, Quinn said.
Quinn said Valenta should have acted more quickly after he noticed the fetal distress. He also noted the hospital's birthing rooms were not equipped to handle C-sections.
"Our experts will tell you that he was in a position where he never should have been."
Godlewski, who had become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, was anxious about her delivery because of her age - 37 at the time - and the difficulty with her firstborn son. Recent surgery for hemorrhoids also would make it difficult to deliver vaginally, Quinn said.
When Godlewski relayed her concerns to a Geisinger physician who had been checking her pregnancy, he agreed a C-section would be best. But after speaking with Dr. Roe, the physician later told her it could not be done.
"We decide these things by committee," Roe told the physician, Quinn said.
The decision against the C-section was in violation of the hospital's policy that Godlewski has a right as a patient to determine what kind of care she wants, the attorney said.
Quinn said there is also evidence records were falsified. Some hospital records place certain operating room personnel in areas they were not actually in, he said. For instance, a record kept by a nurse in the birthing room disagrees with an operating-room report in terms of times and personnel.
An hour after Gina was delivered, she suffered a seizure. She was flown by helicopter to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville where she remained in the neonatal intensive care unit, Quinn said. Stimulation caused the infant to go into seizures, and the parents could not even pick her up.
To this day, no one from the hospital has offered Joan an explanation for her daughter's injuries. At the hospital, Quinn said, Valenta told her, "We'll never know what happened to your baby."
Testimony will resume at 9:30 a.m. today before Judge Mark Ciarvarella.