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CO: System failure [Translation: falla del sistema] A local child and family deal with consequences of a doctor's misguided surgery decision

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The little girl with chubby cheeks and dark brown eyes turns fussy when her dad tries to take off her sweatshirt.

Luzdeestrella Flores-Rios is embarrassed to expose her arms, he explains. They're bowed, almost like parentheses or crescent moons, because her body has problems absorbing calcium.

Those arms have been broken three times in her three years of life. And yet, they're the least of her worries. She must sleep every night hooked up to a machine in her parents' bedroom. The tubes protruding from her belly and chest — for dialysis and feeding when she can't hold down food — are a constant reminder that she's different.

She can't run, jump or fall from a swing like most kids. Contact with older siblings is restrained, and the stairs in her own home remain off-limits — all to safeguard against more fractures of her delicate bones.

These are the consequences of a failed January 2007 kidney operation at Memorial Health System, later deemed unnecessary by other doctors. The surgery was conducted without Luzdeestrella's parents being fully aware of the risks and alternatives to the surgery. And without their informed consent given in Spanish, their native language.

The 3-year-old girl's future is clouded by the uncertainty associated with complete kidney failure. But her soaring medical expenses will be covered by a $1 million settlement, finalized last month, from city-owned Memorial and an undisclosed out-of-court settlement paid earlier by the surgeon, Dr. Bruce Blyth, or his insurance carrier.

Memorial has declined to comment on the case, saying the court file speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Blyth's office manager at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Urology of Denver (which has a satellite office in Colorado Springs) said the doctor was not interested in being interviewed.

The settlements, secured in the Luzdeestrella Flores Disability Trust, will earn interest and pay medical bills. The city's legal counsel, Stephen Mullen, says plaintiffs' experts estimated those bills could exceed $5 million during her lifetime. Treating the broken bones and other problems stemming from the kidney operation has already cost $1 million, funded largely by Medicaid, the state and federal medical coverage program for low-income residents.

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