She would be an adult now if not for medical negligence. Back in the Christmas season of 2002, Leah Coufal was the life of her family. She was a cute funny, girl of just 11 when she underwent elective surgery to correct a fairly common birth condition known as pigeon chest, which left her with a protruding breastbone. 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 afterward the girl fell into deep pain. Doctors repeatedly boosted her dose of painkilling drugs.
Saturated by opiates, Leah fell into a stupor. Her parents grew worried, and raised their concerns to the hospital staff. But as the day wore on into night, staff made only fleeting appearances to check her vital signs and never hooked the little girl to a monitor. Her mother had dozed off next to Leah’s hospital bed when she awoke at 2 am. She screamed. Leah was motionless. The narcotics had slowed her breathing until she had stopped breathing 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.