Suit charges negligence in midshipman's death


The parents of a midshipman who died in 1989 from complications suffered after he blacked out in a Naval Academy swimming pool have sued Anne Arundel Medical Center, charging their son's death resulted from negligent treatment at the Annapolis hospital.

Robert L. Barr Sr. and Catherine Barr of Newark, N.J., filed the suit Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore asking for unspecified damages to cover the cost of their son's medical treatment, his funeral and what his earnings might have been had he lived.

Robert L. Barr Jr., 19, died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Sept. 24, 1989, 12 days after he blacked out while practicing for a series of required swimming tests, including a 40-foot underwater swim, at the pool in Macdonough Hall.

Another midshipman, Chris Frye, brought Mr. Barr, a junior, to the surface and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which helped him regain consciousness, according to the suit.

Annapolis paramedics took Mr. Barr to the medical center, where he complained of chest pains and showed signs of increasing respiratory distress over the next two hours.

Dr. Rosemary Lethbridge, the emergency room physician, gave him Valium and then inserted a tube into his nose to help his breathing, according to the suit. Mr. Barr began spitting up large amounts of bloody fluid from his lungs and began vomiting.

He was given a second dose of Valium, then morphine and then Pavulon, a drug intended to induce temporary paralysis to help prepare him to be put on a respirator, according to the suit.

But the drugs reduced Mr. Barr's gag reflex, causing him to breathe the contents of his stomach into his lungs, which brought on adult respiratory distress syndrome, the suit says. He was treated in the hospital's intensive care unit until he was transferred Sept. 19 to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he died five days later.

During his treatment, Mr. Barr's weight increased from 155 pounds to 193 pounds because he was given too many fluids, according to the suit.

An autopsy by a state medical examiner listed the cause of death as near drowning with complications.

The suit names the hospital and Dr. Lethbridge as defendants. It charges that the hospital staff did not have the "skill and knowledge necessary" to treat a near-drowning victim, that staff members failed to treat Mr. Barr in a timely manner, that they failed to conduct the necessary tests and that they waited too long to transfer him to Shock Trauma.

The suit charges that Dr. Leth bridge failed to properly treat Mr. Barr's medical problems, failed to give him the proper doses of drugs and failed to initiate the proper tests before inserting the tube into his nose.

Dr. Lethbridge was unavailable, and a hospital spokeswoman declined comment.

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