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Jury awards $11.5 million to Framingham girl in medical malpractice suit

A jury has awarded $11.5 million to a Framingham girl whose family filed a medical malpractice suit against a radiologist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, finding that he was negligent in his care of her by not properly reacting to a heart problem she had 10 years ago.

Anna Coelho alleged that in April 2009, when she was an 18-month-old, there was “a significant delay in the diagnosis and treatment of myocarditis” that resulted in cardiac arrest and permanent brain damage. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Coelho was taken to the hospital on April 12, 2009 by her father with complaints of vomiting and possible dehydration, according to court documents. A chest x-ray was performed. Radiologist Dr. William Denison determined that “bronchiolitis v. atypical pneumonia was likely present,” according to court documents. According to Coelho’s attorneys, Denison failed to react accordingly to her enlarged heart.

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Coelho’s attorneys had argued that if her enlarged heart had been identified and reported by Denison, “she would have undergone an echocardiogram, her myocarditis would have been diagnosed and treated, and more likely than not, Anna would not have suffered heart failure and cardiac arrest which resulted in her severe and permanent neurological injury.”

After a two-week trial in Middlesex Superior Court and deliberations over two days, a jury reached a verdict on Thursday, finding that Denison was negligent in his care and treatment of Coelho and that he was “a substantial contributing factor in causing injury” to her.

The jury found that Newton-Wellesley emergency department physician Dr. Ilhan Schwartz was not negligent in his care of Coelho.

William Thompson, an attorney with Boston firm Lubin & Meyer who represented Coelho, said his client, who is now 11, “functions in some ways as a 4-year-old in terms of her development,” because of the episode.

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“We’re very happy that the jury recognized that the harm to Anna Coelho was preventable and the seriousness of that x-ray should not have been dismissed,” without further examination, he said during a phone interview on Thursday.

Attempts to reach Denison’s attorney were unsuccessful.

However, in court documents, defendants in the case argued that they “complied with the standard of care with respect to all of the treatment and care they provided to Anna Coelho.”

“Anna did not present with any signs or symptoms that would raise a suspicion of viral myocarditis and she was appropriately transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital when her condition suddenly deteriorated,” read a pre-trial memorandum. “Thus, they further expect that the evidence will show that nothing they did or failed to do caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.”

Newton-Wellesley Hospital was not a defendant in the case.

In a statement, Newton-Wellesley spokesman John Looney said the hospital “extends heartfelt sympathies to the Coelho family and we are pleased that this difficult matter has been resolved.”

“We remain confident that the caregivers at Newton-Wellesley Hospital provided high-quality and appropriate care,” he said. “Newton-Wellesley Hospital is committed to providing the highest quality care to every patient according to well-established policies and practices.”


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.