Kernan Hospital and its chief of anesthesia were accused of negligence yesterday in a malpractice suit stemming from the morphine intoxication death of a 15-year-old surgical patient.
Corey T. Watson, who was born with cerebral palsy, had orthopedic surgery at Kernan in September to correct physical deformities of his feet that had prevented him from walking, standing and fulfilling a dream to play basketball.
He was pronounced dead at 1:12 a.m. Sept. 28, nearly eight hours after the operation.
The suit against Kernan and Dr. John Kerchberger was filed with the state Health Claims Arbitration Office. It alleges that Corey was given "excessive doses" of pain-relieving medication before surgery under general anesthesia the afternoon of Sept. 27, and more medication afterward -- including morphine administered automatically by a machine.
According to the death certificate, an autopsy performed by the state medical examiner's office determined the cause of death to be morphine intoxication after Corey was "over medicated."
The suit was filed by attorney Marvin Ellin on behalf of Corey's estate and his mother, Marian L. Greenleaf of the 900 block of N. Arlington Ave. It claims that damages exceed $20,000 but, as is customary in arbitration cases, does not specify an amount being sought.
Jamie Caplis, a spokeswoman for James Lawrence Kernan Hospital, said that officials there had not yet been served with a copy of the suit and "until we see it, we just can't comment." Kernan, on Forest Park Avenue at Windsor Mill Road in West Baltimore, is a rehabilitation and orthopedic specialty hospital affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System.
Weeping last night as she recounted Corey's last hours, Ms. Greenleaf said, "I want to see that something is done so it doesn't happen to another child."
Ms. Greenleaf said she and her mother took Corey to the hospital and waited with him on the day of the operation, visited him in the recovery room and waited in his room to comfort the youth before going home for the night.
About 2 a.m., Ms. Greenleaf said, her mother and a sister came to her home to awaken her, saying that Corey "had difficulty breathing" and taking her back to Kernan before letting her know that her only child had died. "I ran down the corridor to his room. I stroked his head and stroked his cheek and told him, 'Boo Bear, wake up and tell me you're not dead,' but he wouldn't wake up."
Ms. Greenleaf, 36, said she worked for 16 years at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard yard before leaving in January to spend more time with Corey. She obtained a clerical job in May, closer to home, at the city schools headquarters.
Corey was born in Baltimore on March 2, 1978, and diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 9 months. He was a student at the city's William S. Baer School for the physically and mentally disabled, and was described in the suit as having the intellectual level of a 12-year-old.
In spite of his disabilities, the suit says, "Corey loved sports" and participated in the Special Olympics. He won a gold medal in a wheelchair race and a silver in a wheelchair slalom event in April. "He was extremely proud of it," Ms. Greenleaf said.
"Basketball was his love," the mother said, recalling how Corey, sitting in his wheelchair, would throw a basketball hoping to reach the hoop on a playground near the Lexington Street home of his grandmother, Ernestine Dixon, who also helped to raise him.
"When he went into the hospital -- he looked forward to going into the hospital -- he said, 'Mom, I'm gonna play baketball good.' That was the way he spoke, 'baketball.' The S's, he kind of dropped them sometimes, and sometimes he could speak clear as a bell."
She said Corey's feet faced inward, and the surgery recommended by a pediatric orthopedist was intended "to enable his feet to bear his weight" so he might become capable of walking.