SCRANTON — An Avoca mother will take to trial next week a lawsuit alleging a local hospital and its staff in 1997 failed to diagnose symptoms that led her 10-month-old son to suffer permanent brain damage.
Due to the alleged negligence, Christopher Hufford, now 20, developed meningitis and suffered “catastrophic” injuries that rendered him the neurological equivalent of a 5-year-old, according to the complaint, filed in 2013 by Hufford’s mother, Jackie Hufford, of Davidson Street.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
‘I wish it never happened’
From brushing her son’s teeth and shaving him to making sure he rinses the shampoo out of his hair, Christopher is fully dependent on his mother for his day-to-day needs and will remain that way for the rest of his life due to his injuries, Jackie Hufford told the Times Leader this week.
“He is my full-time job,” she said.
Jackie Hufford, 42, said her son functions at the level of a kindergartner and identifies with children of that age, but his size and impulsiveness make his behavior difficult to control or predict. He’s enrolled in a life skills program through the Pittston Area School District but struggles to read or write, she said.
“I’m upset about it,” she said of her son’s brain damage. “I wish it never happened. I wanted him to be a normal 20-year-old boy.”
The 59-page complaint alleges the boy’s injuries could have been avoided if not for the “gross negligence” of the defendants, a group that includes Geisinger Health System, Community Medical Center (CMC) and Mercy Hospital, both in Scranton, as well as CMC Drs. Lewis C. Druffner Jr. and Anthony L. Chiavacci.
The family’s attorney, Matt Casey, of Philadelphia law firm Ross Feller Casey, said the “very, very poor medical care” given to Christopher forever changed the life of an otherwise healthy baby boy.
“Instead of being a healthy 20-year-old man, he’s totally dependent on his mother in order to get through each day,” Casey said in a statement to the Times Leader. “At long last, we will seek justice for him from the jury who will hear his case.”
Geisinger backs care
Donna Rae, Geisinger Associate Chief Legal Officer-Litigation Services, said CMC “sympathizes with the Hufford family.”
“There are times under the best of circumstances when outcomes cannot be predicted or prevented. This is one of those times,” she said Tuesday in a statement to the Times Leader.
“CMC believes in its staff who provided care. Each staff member was professional and compassionate, and rendered good care. While the outcome is not what one would hope, it was not negligence as alleged in the lawsuit,” according to the statement.
The trial, scheduled to begin Monday in Lackawanna County Court, is expected to last at least two weeks. It will begin roughly a month after the statute of limitations to file the lawsuit would have expired.
Christopher’s symptoms at CMC on April 6, 1997, and subsequent lab results were indicative of “an advancing infection,” but doctors put him at risk of developing meningitis by failing to perform an evaluation that could have ruled out the infection, according to the complaint.
He was discharged the following day with a final diagnosis of dehydration, the complaint says.
But two days later, Jackie Hufford was ordered to bring Christopher to Druffner’s offices after she noticed stiffness in his arms and witnessed his eyes rolling back in his head, according to the complaint. There, Christopher suffered a seizure and was taken to CMC’s emergency department where an examining doctor’s opinion noted “probable meningitis,” the complaint says.
Christopher, according to the complaint, was transported via helicopter to a children’s hospital in Philadelphia, where he was fed through a tube, suffered seizures and required drains to reduce the pressure on his brain until he was discharged to the rehabilitation unit of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center three weeks later.
He has been in and out of hospitals since, the complaint says.
“Christopher’s symptoms and clinical picture as they existed on April 6-7, 1997, immediately should have been recognized and appreciated by both Dr. Chiavacci and Dr. Druffner as evidencing a progressive and potentially life-threatening infection in this 10-month-old baby,” the complaint says. “In gross departure from the standard of care and in reckless regard for the health, well-being and safety of Christopher Hufford, they were not.”
‘I just cope’
Because of the injuries, Jackie Hufford said her 20-year-old son acts like a child one-fourth his age. He scribbles in coloring books, acts out battles between action figures and watches cartoons. He has pets, including a pig, Porkchop, who loves when Christopher feeds him freeze pops, his mother said.
Christopher’s sense of humor during his hobbies are the moments his mother said brings out her smile every day.
“You have to laugh and he makes you laugh,” she said. “You laugh all the time with Chris.”
Jackie Hufford acknowledged her son goes through good and bad days and can be a force to calm once he gets worked up, but said she has no other choice than to push through for him.
“I just cope,” Hufford said. “I just have to do it. I have to take care of Christopher.”
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL.