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Arkansas Children's Hospital sued over teen's death; parents say son denied critical tests for days

by Lara Farrar | September 1, 2021 at 7:17 a.m.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN --6/15/2017-- Workers install an Arkansas Children's logo on the side of a building on the hospital complex in Little Rock Thursday, June 15, 2017.

The parents of an Ashdown teen are suing Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock for what they say is negligent care of their son who died from a brain injury after an ATV crash this spring.

On March 23, 14-year-old Cedrick Harris Jr., who was called C.J., suffered a traumatic brain injury after the ATV on which he was a passenger overturned, pinning his head beneath it, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in Pulaski County Circuit Court. Harris was airlifted to Arkansas Children's Hospital after a smaller hospital determined a skull fracture and brain bleed were beyond its scope of care.

[DOCUMENT: Read lawsuit against Arkansas Children's Hospital » arkansasonline.com/91ach/]

Parents Marie Ferdinand-Harris and Cedrick Harris Sr., said while at Arkansas Children's Hospital, their son received substandard care, being prematurely moved out of the pediatric intensive care unit to a rehabilitation floor when the teen could not talk, move on his own and was complaining of severe headaches.

"C.J.'s parents stood by helplessly and watched as their 14-year-old son became a shell of his former self," the lawsuit said. "C.J. was scared, confused, disoriented and unable to communicate or verbalize his complaints with his parents."

The court filing continued: "It was clear C.J. had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, and that his life was in grave danger. For some reason, ACH [Arkansas Children's Hospital] and its staff wrongfully and recklessly assumed otherwise."

In an email, a spokesperson for Arkansas Children's Hospital said the hospital "does not comment on pending litigation."

"We share our heartfelt condolences with the Harris family as they grieve their son's death," the spokesperson said.

The Harris family seeks a jury trial and compensatory damages, "including what C.J. might have reasonably expected to earn in the future," funeral expenses, and pain and anguish suffered by the family.

C.J. Harris' parents and their attorneys held a news conference Tuesday morning in Little Rock to announce the suit during which they showed videos of medical staff trying to help C.J. Harris with physical therapy while in the rehabilitation unit of Arkansas Children's Hospital.

In one clip, C.J. Harris cannot walk on his own, his eyes are half-opened, he does not talk and when assisted back into a wheelchair, his head involuntarily drops back.

"There's no head rest there," one of the health care workers said to the teenager.

C.J. Harris does not respond.

In another video, the teen is given a yellow sock, which he fumbles with for a few seconds, his eyes barely open, then struggles to place the garment on his foot. He's unable to without the assistance of a nurse.

The suit alleges Arkansas Children's Hospital continued to delay tests to determine the extent of the injuries from the ATV crash as well as determine whether additional conditions were developing that would explain the child's ongoing decline.

It says C.J. Harris did not receive an MRI until March 29 -- six days after he was admitted.

"Apparently, the [Arkansas Children's Hospital] staff felt the need for an MRI was not urgent, a mistake that proved to be fatal," the lawsuit said.

"His neurological evaluation stopped," said Matthew Moore, an attorney with the Washington D.C.-based Berman Law Group, who is representing the family. "The issue here is that they [doctors] did not do anything."

George Wise of the Brad Hendricks Law Firm in Little Rock is serving as the Harrises' local counsel.

The lawsuit details how C.J. Harris' parents say they continued to plead with doctors to run a battery of tests to monitor their son's condition.

They say their requests fell on apparent deaf ears. Court filings also say that the family is concerned their case was not taken seriously because Arkansas Children's Hospital might have believed the family did not have insurance, and therefore could not afford the expensive treatment.

"It should be noted that, upon information and belief, C.J.'s [Harris] file had been marked as 'self-pay' upon admission to [Arkansas Children's, or uninsured, despite the fact that C.J. [Harris] had proper medical insurance and [the hospital] had been informed of his insurance," the filing said.

"Upon information and belief, the incorrect perception that C.J. [Harris] was uninsured and needed expensive care, along with his background, negatively impacted his treatment at [Arkansas Children's Hospital," the document said.

The Harris family is Black.

C.J. Harris was pronounced brain dead from tests run on March 30 and 31 and was kept "viable for [organ] donation reasons until April 2," court filings said.

He died on April 2, almost two weeks after being admitted to Arkansas Children's.

Attorneys and the child's mother, Ferdinand-Harris, told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Tuesday afternoon that they would let a jury decide damages.

"You can't put a price on a child's life," Moore, the attorney said. "It will be up for a jury to decide that, and what an unenviable position to be in."

Ferdinand-Harris said her objective for suing the hospital is to prevent something similar from happening again.

"We would hate for another family to experience what we had to experience day-in-and-day-out," Ferdinand-Harris said. "It's a great opportunity to shed light on what happens in these hospitals, what goes on in those walls."

"It is very heartbreaking," she said. "We trusted that he was in the best care, but they failed our son."

C.J. Harris was an award-winning high school athlete, participating in baseball, football, basketball and track and field. At the time of his death, "he had already earned a dual athletic scholarship for baseball and football at Louisiana State University," according to the lawsuit.

Arkansas Children's Hospital "robbed C.J. [Harris] of his bright future," the lawsuit said.

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