Leah Coufal, Oak Park

Leah

She would be an adult now if not for medical negligence. Back in the winter of 2002, Leah Coufal was the love of her family. She was a funny, cute girl of just 11 when she underwent elective surgery to correct a fairly common birth condition known as pigeon chest, which meant she had a protruding breastbone. Because Leah was on the cusp of adolescence, the family figured it was time to seek the corrective surgery that doctors described as routine. The procedure seemed to go well, but Leah soon began to endure significant pain. Doctors responded by repeatedly boosting her dose of painkilling drugs.

Saturated by opiates, Leah fell into a stupor. Her parents grew worried and raised their concerns with the hospital staff. But as the day wore into night, staff made few appearances to check on her vital signs and at no point hooked Leah up to a monitor. Leah's mother, who had dozed off next to her hospital bed, awoke screaming at 2 am when she noticed that Leah was motionless. The narcotics had slowed her breathing until it stopped it completely. Doctors rushed in and performed CPR for 40 minutes.

But it was too late, Leah had died.

“This was so avoidable,” her mother, Lenore Alexander, says today.“You aren’t supposed to bury your children, especially healthy children.” The family sought accountability for this preventable tragedy, but instead they ran headlong into California’s $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages. They were disbelieving at first, then outraged. The value of their child’s life had been reduced $250,000 because of the outdated cap that has not been adjusted for 45 years.