Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Vincent Adams visits his wife, Jennifer, in the hospital. She was severely injured, allegedly from an epidural given during their baby's birth in December 2002, and died four months later.

Lawsuit blames
Tripler for death

After losing his wife, a Marine
now cares for his disabled son

Vincent A. Adams and Jennifer L. Raiano got married in a small ceremony in Honolulu on Valentine's Day 2002 with dreams of having children.

On Dec. 14, 2002, the couple awaited the birth of their first baby at Tripler Army Medical Center. The couple originally planned to have a natural childbirth, but after 46 hours of painful labor, Jennifer decided to have an epidural injection to lessen the pain.

Soon after she received a second epidural after the first one failed to take effect, Jennifer stopped breathing. Doctors administered an emergency Caesarian section.

Four months after their son was born initially lifeless, Jennifer, 20, died of pneumonia due to complications from the epidural that was injected in the wrong space of her spine, according to attorney William Copulos, who is representing the Adams family.

A lawsuit was filed against the federal government in U.S. District Court yesterday for the wrongful death of Jennifer Adams. The suit alleges that Tripler staff failed to properly administer the epidural anesthetic and perform appropriate testing to detect the improper placement of the needle.

Instead of anesthetizing the nerve so she would be more comfortable, the staff anesthetized her heart and diaphragm, Copulos said. Tripler doctors told Adams that his wife's heart stopped when she stopped breathing, causing the lack of oxygen and blood flow to her brain, he added.

"It frustrates me that no one is trying to take responsibility," Adams, 23, said Friday in a phone interview from Raleigh, N.C. The former Kaneohe Marine said the doctors did not give him a clear explanation of what was wrong with his wife before she died, and speculated that it was because he was a lance corporal.

In a written statement, Tripler spokeswoman Margaret Tippy said, "We take the care and safety of all our patients seriously. I cannot speak about any particular case because we aren't able to comment about ongoing litigation or investigations."

She further stated that "Tripler staff cares very much about our patient care responsibilities -- which is evidenced by the number of people who want to be treated at Tripler."

"It was a really good friendship. We had a lot of things in common," Adams said of his wife in a videotaped interview in March 2003. "I felt like she was the one."

Adams, who was based at Kaneohe Bay, said his wife, 20, had plans of going to college, entering the Air Force Academy and having more children. "Now she can't do that anymore," he said.

Adams described his wife as outgoing and intelligent. They enjoyed going to the beach and playing pool together. He added that they had plans to travel around the world together and settle in California or Florida.

On Dec. 14, 2002, Copulos said, Jennifer was given a second epidural at 6:40 p.m. Three minutes later she complained that she was not feeling well.

The certified registered nurse anesthetist told her to say the alphabet backward. When Jennifer reached S, she started to stutter. "She looked at me and said she was scared," Adams said.

A second later, Adams said, her eyes rolled toward the back of her head, and she fell sideways on the bed. Jennifer became stiff and her face turned blue, he noted. The monitors hooked up to her body "went really crazy," he said.

Jennifer stopped breathing, and her heart stopped for about six to eight minutes, Copulos said. Following the emergency Caesarian section, doctors resuscitated Jennifer and transferred her to the intensive care unit, according to the lawsuit.

Her son, Diego, was also revived by doctors after he was initially born lifeless.

Following the birth of their son, Jennifer remained at Tripler after she suffered a severe brain injury, Copulos said.

"She experienced seizures and required heavy sedation due to prolonged and severe agitation as a consequence of the severe anoxic brain injury she suffered. She required a tracheotomy to assist her breathing and a nasogastric tube for tube feedings," according to the lawsuit.

Jennifer was bedridden, could not speak or walk and experienced intermittent delirium, Copulos said.

After 3 1/2 months of undergoing physical and speech therapy at Tripler, Jennifer was to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Florida. Adams said his wife was able to speak softly and slowly at that time.

On April 2, Adams and his wife took a 12-day military flight -- with four stops -- to Florida, where Jennifer was to be transferred to the Healthsouth Sunrise Rehabilitation Hospital's Comprehensive Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program.

"Instead of being flown directly to the airport nearest the Healthsouth Sunrise Rehabilitation Hospital, she was flown to Northern California, Southern California, Arizona and Texas before arriving at the Rehabilitation hospital 12 days later," according to the lawsuit.

Tippy said flights are prioritized based on the medical condition of the patient.

On April 17, three days after she arrived at the hospital, Jennifer Adams died of "acute bronchial pneumonia due to complications of a high spinal epidural injection for anesthesia for childbirth," Copulos said based on her autopsy report.

"He had hopes until the very end that she would recover," Copulos said.

Adams said they had planned to have a big wedding ceremony in Virginia, his next duty station.

He was instead transferred to Raleigh, N.C., near where his mother, Latanya Adams, lives. Adams' mother helps raise his son, who suffers from cerebral palsy, partial paralysis to his right arm and leg, and developmental delay.

Diego currently undergoes physical and speech therapy three times a week. He cannot walk or sit up on his own, Adams said.

Adams said he constantly thinks about his wife. When he wakes up, "The first thing I think about is her," Adams said. He noted that their son has the same eyes and smile as Jennifer.

He recalled that during their stopover in Texas en route to Florida, Jennifer started crying. When he asked what was wrong, she slowly whispered, "I wish we had more time."

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