Kim Boulter was having a healthy pregnancy when she and her husband, Daniel, headed to Massachusetts General Hospital in January 2013. But when their son, Aiden, was born after five hours of pushing, he was not breathing and had almost no heartbeat.
That came as a shock to the medical team, which had not been using a continuous fetal heart-rate monitor.
Aiden was left with severe brain injuries, the result of the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck in the birth canal, the family’s attorney said. Now 6, Aiden cannot walk, speak, or eat on his own.
On Wednesday, a Suffolk County jury awarded the Boulters $30.6 million, finding Cross Country Staffing Inc., which had supplied the nurse responsible for monitoring Aiden’s heart rate, negligent in the care and treatment of Kim and Aiden Boulter.
Just before the verdict, the company reached a confidential settlement with the family that will spare it from having to pay the full $30.6 million.
The Boulters’ attorney, Benjamin R. Zimmerman, said the family will still receive a significant sum because the size of the confidential settlement was tied to the size of the jury award. Zimmerman said $30.6 million is among the largest awards in a medical malpractice case in Massachusetts in recent years.
Kim Boulter said she and her husband, who both testified during the two-week trial, were “completely overwhelmed with joy” when they heard the verdict.
She said they pursued the case for nearly six years because they want hospitals to write safe and clear fetal-monitoring guidelines for nurses to prevent similar injuries to other newborns.
“We feel it never should have happened, and it was a senseless loss of the life he would have had,” Boulter, 35, said in a phone interview Thursday, from the family’s home in Lewis Center, Ohio, outside Columbus. “We had so many dreams for him and his life and, within a couple of hours, that all disappeared. And now his life is much, much more difficult, full of medical appointments, surgeries, just ongoing.”
Cross Country Staffing said the nurse involved in delivering Aiden had more than 30 years of labor and delivery experience and “was one member of a care team supporting the midwife and attending obstetrician at one of the nation’s preeminent hospitals.”
“Nevertheless, a rare and unfortunate outcome resulted,” the company said in a statement. “The company’s heartfelt prayers go out to the affected family.”
Cross Country said that while the settlement with the Boulters is confidential, the company is expected to pay about $1 million, with the rest covered by insurers.
The company, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla., and has an office in Braintree, supplies medical personnel to short-staffed hospitals across the country. In its statement, the company said it has “maintained a proven track record for 33 years of delivering high quality, flexible healthcare staffing solutions with qualified professionals dedicated to exceptional patient care.”
MGH, the midwife, and the obstetrician were initially named as defendants in the Boulters’ lawsuit, but settled for an undisclosed sum last year, before the case went to trial, Zimmerman said. The Boulters voluntarily dropped the temporary nurse as a defendant because her employer is legally responsible for negligent conduct, Zimmerman said.
MGH said in a statement Thursday that it “extends heartfelt sympathies to the Boulter family for the complications their son experienced during a difficult delivery in January 2013.”
“Mass General is dedicated to providing the highest-quality team-based care to families every day according to well-established policies and practices,” the statement said. “In this case, the jury agreed with the plaintiff’s position that that high standard was not met.”
Boulter said she and her husband were looking forward to having their first child at MGH, where Daniel Boulter was working on a two-year radiology fellowship. The couple trusted the hospital and there were no complications during her pregnancy, she said.
“I think that played into how this tragedy unfolded because no one ever suspected anything would ever go wrong, and therefore the medical provider in this case did not monitor Aiden well enough,” Boulter said.
Boulter pushed for five hours while the nurse from Cross Country Staffing checked Aiden’s heart rate intermittently, using a hand-held device, Zimmerman said.
But Zimmerman contended that MGH policy requires the use of a continuous fetal heart-rate monitor when pushing during the second stage of labor stretches past two or three hours. The intermittent readings suggested the baby’s heart rate was normal, but Zimmerman said he believes the nurse was actually measuring the mother’s heart rate.
If an abnormal heart rate had been detected, Aiden, who was in the birth canal, could have been delivered quickly with forceps or a vacuum-assisted delivery, Zimmerman said.
Boulter said that she and her husband, despite his medical background, knew nothing about fetal heart-rate monitoring.
“We were completely trusting our health care providers to give us the best care and, after this experience, I’m never going to have this level of trust again,” Boulter said. “I would say it was a failure of the entire team.”
Four years ago, Boulter gave birth to their second child, Owen. She said she was petrified of having to go through labor again so she chose to have him delivered via C-section, scheduled ahead of time.
“He’s perfectly healthy and happy, and so am I,” Boulter said. “That’s the outcome every parent wants to have — a health baby and mom after birth.”
Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org