Selena Alvarez graduated from high school in 2013. She was working and had just started attending college when she found out that she was pregnant. She was studying to work in the medical field and was looking forward to starting her life. It was her first pregnancy, and she was nervous but happy. Everything was going well until she started to experience pain early in her pregnancy. She quit school with the plan to take a break until she had her daughter and then go back. Nothing went according to plan.
Everything seemed fine when Selena had her first OBGYN appointment at 10 weeks. But she quickly began to feel something was wrong – she was spotting blood and felt pain on her side. Worried, she brought her concerns to her provider, but he downplayed her symptoms. She was sent home with no advice. Frightened and needing answers, Selena went to the local ER for help. But the local ER doctors passed her off too, telling her they were not OBs and sending her back to her OB-GYN. Over two months, Selena was caught in a cycle of neglect, as her condition grew worse to the point that she could not eat or sit up. Yet the only time her provider ran labs or performed an ultrasound for Selena was at her first appointment. Multiple visits to the OB and the hospital ended the same way – with no treatment and no answers.
By Christmas Eve, she could not feel her hands or her back and she could not breathe. Although she was just 6 months pregnant, she was already dilated. Selena went to the hospital, where her OB delivered her extremely premature baby. The whole time, the OB didn’t answer a single question from Selena or her husband about what was wrong, why the baby was so early, or the baby’s health once she was delivered.
Selena’s daughter, who they named Anayeli, was delivered 23 weeks premature and weighed less than a pound. Following her birth, they could not get a pulse or get the baby to breathe. It was left to another doctor to explain she would have to be airlifted to a children’s hospital over 200 miles away where they would have the resources to care for her. During a five-hour delay between Anayeli’s birth and the transfer, Selena’s mother and husband were not allowed into the NICU with her daughter, leaving no one to advocate for Anayeli and try to find answers.
Selena was devastated. This was her first child. Selena’s mother told her, “This is wrong. You needed help and no one helped you. This could have been prevented.”
It was not until Anayeli arrived at the children’s hospital that Selena learned that her baby girl had level 4 bleeding of the brain, the highest severity bleed, and hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain. They recommended that she cut life support but Selena refused to give up on her baby. Anayeli was ultimately in the hospital for seven and a half months, and was diagnosed with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Selena herself was left with long-term conditions following her pregnancy complications including scoliosis, and a thyroid condition from bacteria that attacked her glands during pregnancy.
Anayeli survived and is now seven years old, but she will never live independently. She cannot walk and requires a feeding tube. Selena is certain that if any of her concerns or symptoms had been taken seriously, Anayeli’s life would be very different. Instead, she will require 24/7 care for the rest of her life.
Selena spent months looking for an attorney only for her daughter’s case to be turned down due to the 1975 medical negligence cap that limits quality of life damages to $250,000. The nearly 50-year-old cap keeps children like Anayeli from getting the services and care they need. Selena did find a lawyer to take Anayeli’s case for a short time, but he dropped the case when they no longer had the money to continue. Selena struggles to get her daughter the physical therapy she needs, and tools like a wheelchair as she grows and requires more equipment. Anayeli has Medi-Cal insurance, and it does not pay for some of the equipment that she needs for everyday life. Selena pays for many things out of pocket which is a struggle since she can no longer work because her daughter requires 24-hour care.
Selena has faced many obstacles since her daughter was harmed by medical negligence including the breakup of her marriage. She can no longer go to school or work because the majority of her time is spent in physical therapy and transporting her daughter from place to place. Although Selena has struggled, she would not change a thing. Her life has changed for the good. Selena said “I was lost and Anayeli was the bright thing that came out of this. I want to strive better and be better for my child.” This is the reason why Selena has joined the fight for the Fairness Act to save another child from a life challenged by lifelong harm.
Californians will have the chance to vote on the Fairness for Injured Patients Act on the November 2022 ballot. The Fairness Act would update California’s medical malpractice damage cap for nearly 50 years of inflation, and allow judges and juries to decide fair compensation in cases involving catastrophic injury or death. Learn more about this campaign for patient safety.
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A state law that hasn’t changed since 1975 caps compensation for families harmed by medical negligence. The limits apply to lost quality of life, even if a patient loses a leg, a child, or is disabled for life. Click on the picture of the map to find patients by the State Senate Districts they live in.
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