Infant suffers from whooping cough during epidemic. But after a series of hospital visits doctors refuse to run tests that would have uncovered the illness leading to her death

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The death of a six-week-old child from an illness that could have been easily diagnosed and successfully treated is tragic enough.  For the life of that child to be valued at no more than $250,000 is unforgivable. 

    Six-week-old Alexandra Mia Chavez, the third child of Alejandra Gonzalez and Mario Chavez, began coughing and wheezing one warm day in July 2010.  Her mother shuttles little Mia to the clinic near their home in the Los Angeles County community of La Puente but was told to keep an eye on the girl’s condition and sent home.  When the newborn failed to improve over the course of the next three days, her mom took the girl to an emergency room. An X-Ray was shot, and the mom was assured her tiny, swaddled infant did not have pneumonia.

    The next day, Mia’s regular doctor treated her with a nebulizer.  A day later he prescribed an antibiotic and Tylenol.  When her mom called the following day to report no improvement, the physician seemed unconcerned that something more might be amiss.  Finally, still spiraling downhill a week after her illness first surfaced, Mia was taken to the emergency room.  The next day she was pronounced dead.

The tiny infant was ultimately diagnosed with pertussis, or whooping cough, a highly contagious disease known to be potentially fatal in infants.  Her doctor later admitted he was aware that California, and Los Angeles in particular, was in the midst of a pertussis epidemic, although he had not seen a case himself.  Warnings had been issued to the medical community before Alexandra became ill.  Be on guard, they warned, because of the initial symptoms of pertussis in infants can resemble those of the common cold—right along the lines of Alexandra showed when she first went in for care.  Infants under three months old, like Alexandra, were most at risk.

Her doctor could have run a blood test or done a nasal swab that could have established the presence of pertussis.  He did not.  The standard treatment would almost certainly have prevented Mia’s death.  But the Physician never ordered any lab work or cultures.  And the antibiotic he prescribed may have reduced the infant’s ability to fight the infection.

The normal standard of care would have required Mia’s doctor to refer her to a hospital given her continuing cough and lack of nutrition resulting in weight loss.  He did not.

Mia’s mom know it was not normal for a child to be as ill as her baby became in the week leading up to her death.  She did everything she could to help little Mia, taking her to medical facilities five times in eight days once her daughter showed symptoms, as well as calling on another occasion.

Under California’s 38-year-old MICRA damage cap, Alexandra Mia Chavez’s life, with all the potential it held, all the joy she brought to her parents and all the agony they went through as a result of her death was worth no more than $250,000.

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