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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

Life expectancy of injured boy key in Tripler case

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

A federal judge is being asked to estimate the life expectancy of a 19-month-old boy who suffered severe brain damage when he was given carbon dioxide instead of oxygen soon after birth last year at Tripler Army Medical Center.

How long Islam Yasim Ibn Siddiq "Izzy" Peterson is expected to live will determine how much in damages the federal government must pay to the child's family.

Yesterday, trial began before U.S. District Judge David Ezra, with an expert witness for the government testifying that Izzy is expected to live 20 years or less based on his condition. At an estimated $500,000 a year, the government would pay about $10 million.

But Rick Fried, attorney for the child's parents, Shalay and Dwight Peterson, argued that Izzy could live for 40 years to 45 years. If Ezra agrees, that would force the government to pay the Petersons $20 million to $22.5 million.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Yee, who is representing the government, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Fried said that it is important that the Petersons receive enough money to cover the medical costs for Izzy. The boy is fed through a tube and breathes with the help of a ventilator, he said.

"We need to make sure he has sufficient funds for his lifetime because it's very expensive for 24-hour nursing care," Fried said outside the courtroom.

The government has already admitted it was liable for the injuries Izzy suffered when he was born on Jan. 14, 2005, at Tripler. Hospital staff decided to give the newborn oxygen to help him breathe, but the boy was given carbon dioxide instead for more than 40 minutes.

As a result of the error, the boy suffered brain damage and will be dependent on medical devices and 24-hour nursing care for the rest of his life. The Petersons filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the government and sought an unspecified amount in damages.

Last month, the federal government admitted that it was solely responsible for the boy's injuries, but the two sides could not agree on the damages.

Dwight Peterson is in the Army, and he and his family have since been transferred to San Antonio, Texas. Fried said Izzy is doing as well as can be expected.

"We think he's quite responsive," Fried said. "His parents feel he responds to them in many ways."

The trial will resume this afternoon. Ezra is expected to visit the child in Texas before issuing a ruling, Fried said.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.