Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thank You

This is for each member of the jury that sat on our case. 
I have thought about you a lot over the years. Knowing that you were the one that would make the decision. I prayed for you when you were chosen. I prayed for you each day we were together. I prayed for you when you listened to us, as a mom and dad of a little girl. I prayed for you as you made your decision. I have prayed for you since that day. 
We can take care of Lizzy for the rest of her life because of the decision you made on April 13, 2005. I am forever grateful to you. You listened. You understood. You loved. You were compassionate. You showed mercy. You validated us. 
I remember walking outside of the courthouse and a car pulling up with arms flailing and tears coming from your eyes. Wanting to touch and hug us. I wish I knew you now. It breaks my heart that we are strangers now. Even now, I sob, wishing I could hug you. I would call you friend. 
You would love Lizzy. She would love you. She is a happy girl. She is so healthy. She hardly ever gets sick. She giggles so much. I wish you could sit with her for just five minutes. 
We don’t know each other now and I understand that and how the mind works. We may be just a memory to you but I remember you. You are apart of our family and I will always be thankful for you. God bless you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

After The Trial

Before I get into money, I want to say this.  I felt The Lord at every moment in that courtroom.  For example, the judge that normally presides in Sumter, for some reason that I can’t remember, swapped time with our judge.  So having a mother as a judge made me feel so much better.  I remember her warm smile. Her name was The Honorable Paula H. Thomas. We ultimately give God all the praise and glory in our journey. His blessings have been abundant and we are humbled.

I was teaching fourth grade and I loved it. I would still be teaching and would be in my 16th year had Lizzy been born without complications.  We would live in a normal sized home just like our other teacher friends.  I worked with so many wonderful women (and a few men) that supported me throughout this journey.  I will always be grateful for their friendship and love.  I miss them. I loved my Wilder Family!!

Damon and I decided that because Lizzy was starting preschool in the public school at 3 years old and just having Emily, it would be best for me to stay home. Going from two incomes to one was extremely difficult. This was in 2002. Three years before our trial.

We went back to court two more times before we would receive Lizzy’s money. It wasn’t until 2006 that we had it. All of it has been invested. My astro van died picking up Emily from preschool in 2005. We traded it in for a beautiful brand new Honda Odyssey. It was perfect. It was this year that Damon made me trade it in. It had 170,000 miles on it.  I cried over that van.  It was perfect for Lizzy. We did get another Odyssey, but it’s not the same.  However, I have stopped crying over it.

We had a home built in 2007. Damon had an idea of what he wanted for Lizzy. We definitely wanted a therapy gym for her, her own ADA (Americans with Disability Act) bathroom, and a good size bedroom for her to move around in.  Lizzy is legally blind so it wasn’t going to be glamorous because that isn’t what she needs.  In fact, nothing in our life is or has ever been glamorous.  So with Damon’s idea drawn out, along with our builder (who is our neighbor) our home was planned.  If you were to pull up to our home, you won’t see pillars or lion statues. Nothing fancy, in fact, one of our garage doors isn’t working. 

Damon still has his 2005 Toyota Tundra. It just hit 100,000 miles.

Last year (2014) we purchased a 2007 motor home. We would take a family vacation and Lizzy would have to stay back because of travel issues.  I would cry every time and say “this isn’t a family vacation when one of us isn’t here.” I was so sad. So Damon said a few years back, this is something we need.  We will save a little and then get it. Hands down, the best purchase we ever made and one of the best decisions!!!!

We had a life care planner help with what we would need for Lizzy for the future. Basically, we went to court to receive a stipend each month to care for Lizzy. With what we won for Lizzy, we can care for her for the rest of her life.  We fought tooth and nail for that little girl. 

We said from the very beginning that this was Lizzy’s money. We want to use it in a way that she would be proud of us. And we have done just that. We are a charitable family. We see a need; we will help fill that need. That is what Lizzy would want, I’m sure of that. We try to be good stewards of her money.

We know that people are curious and have always answered questions honestly and openly. We have never flaunted or been showy about it.  Damon and I are the same people that we were before we won that day. We just have, like, five more dollars in the bankJ

We have experienced people who are “jealous” of what we have.  Some of them didn’t know about Lizzy and some of them did. For those that did know, we would give every cent back to have our Lizzy say “I love you,” or “hey dad”.  In a heartbeat, every penny!!!!  I would also say to them, “let’s trade lives for just an hour.”  You can tell when someone is genuine and sincere. They ask about Lizzy and really want to know how she is. 

Lizzy will be 16 this year.  We are ready.

Side note: I asked Damon to read over this for me and add or take out anything he wanted.  He says it has a different feel to it.  It’s a little edgy. Let me say this.  I would never want to offend or hurt anyone with anything that I say.  Our focus has always been about Lizzy.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ten Years Ago - Day Four

April 13, 2005

Day Four

This day was going to be hard to get through. My heart was beating out of my chest when I took my seat at the front. Damon was quiet this morning.  The defense was going to make this look like we slapped her, banged her head against the wall, shook her, and all the other horror stories that I had heard before of abuse.  I hate that they had the last “ups”.  Whatever they said last, I felt, is what the jurors would remember. I was helpless.

They called an expert from a genetic center.  I was familiar with this particular one because it was strongly suggested for me to receive counseling and testing from there.  So for them to call someone from there was confusing. They have no records on us.  The attorney for the doctor asked questions about “studies” and past testing from others and how this case compares. They were hoping for some genetic connection for what happened to Lizzy. I wasn’t impressed and this expert was weak and seemed to hurt their case. The next person they called up was a nurse that was on the floor that night. They asked questions to build up the doctor. What kind of doctor she was? Has she ever had any problems with other birthing experiences? Does she conduct herself in a professional manner? Was she well respected in the community?  All great questions. Then my attorney asked two questions. Did she come into the hospital when you called her at 2:00 am? No sir. Did she come in to the hospital when you called her at 5:00 am? No sir.

 “No further questions, Your Honor.”

They called up the next and last witness. Surprisingly, we had only begun two hours before at that point. My doctor took the oath and then sat down. This wasn’t a criminal case so there was no harsh punishment if she were to lose. This was a malpractice suit, which was a lawsuit against her and the hospital.  The hospital settled a couple months before at our mediation.  Had she agreed to a settlement, we would have avoided court.  Our attorney walked out of our mediation and said, “How insulting, we are going to court!” He knew what he was doing but I was terrified.

I watched her on the witness stand. The way she blinked, moved her hands, adjusted in her seat, and the way her voice would crack. Again, they asked her questions about her stellar 25-year career. She mentioned that she delivered three babies that week with no problems. All healthy babies!! With a big smile on her face.  They asked her about the night I was there. She said she remembered getting those two phone calls but no one expressed any real concern about was going on. They referred back to her deposition now and then. In her career, no one had ever brought a lawsuit against her.

Then they rested and our attorney stood up and walked over to an overhead projector. He just stood next to it and asked her this question.

“When you performed the c-section and you pulled Lizzy out, what color was the amniotic fluid?”

I looked at Damon…confused…again.  Why on earth is this even a relevant question?

The doctor answered, “clear.”
Our attorney asked, “Are you sure?”
The doctor answered, “Absolutely clear.”

Our attorney then turned on the projector and displayed the doctor’s deposition. He then asked “can you read to us what you said in your deposition about the color of the amniotic fluid, please?”

The doctor puts on her glasses and reads it aloud.

                        “The amniotic fluid was slightly yellow.”

I heard “objection”, and “Your Honor, may I approach the bench”. It was clear that my doctor lied and they needed to do some damage control.  Hey, where did that big smile on the doctor’s face go? We rested after a few more questions.

This meant that the closing statements would begin. I was feeling better. Where did the abuse accusation go?

After both sides finished, the judge spoke to the jury, like she did everyday.  This time was different. They were to have lunch in the deliberation room. This is where they would decide on our case. Then they left. Damon and I quietly left and when down the street to a fast food joint and ate our lunch. We sat and talked for a while. Then we got a phone call. Our attorney was telling us that the jury had reached a decision and we should come back to the courthouse.  It had only been two hours.

We get back to the courthouse and sit down with our attorney in the middle of the room in one of the “pews”.  He told us that this was not a good sign. Only deliberating for two hours is worrisome. As we were talking, one of the female defense attorneys came over to me.  Put her hand on my shoulder, and said to me, “Mrs. Viele, I know that you are a good mom.” I said thank you and she took her seat. 

Everyone assembled back into the courtroom and there was silence.  The judge speaks to the jury and to the attorneys for a few minutes. Then it happened. The foreman handed the paper to the officer who handed it to the judge.  She reads it and gives it back. The officer hands it to another man (not sure who he was) and he reads it out loud.

“We the jury find in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of ________________.”  (Our case was public and so you can just Google it)

Damon and I just fell into each other and sobbed. I mean full on sobbing! Our attorney and his wife were crying. The jurors were crying. It was surreal.

The judge basically released the jury and that really was it. We walked outside and some of the jurors were waiting for us. Crying and telling us they were praying for us. Telling us it would never be enough but gave us extra on top of what we were asking. 

We would have to go back to court in the next year and get Lizzy’s money.  The doctor was going to try and appeal it but never did. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ten Years Ago - Day Three

April 12, 2005

Day Three.

This was our day. The day, the jury would be able to hear us. Hear our voice. I was terrified. Damon was too but never showed it. Our attorney had specific instructions for when we were on the stand. Speak clearly and speak to the people on the jury. Look into their eyes when we spoke. Sounds easy enough.

Damon was first. Lizzy’s dad.  "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?” This was real.  Hand on the Bible. He was asked many questions about Lizzy. Many questions about the night I was in labor. Questions about how life has been with a child like Lizzy. I looked at the jury at one point and saw the men crying. You could hear the sniffling, whimpering, and pulling tissue from the boxes. Damon broke a few times and that was hard to see.  It wasn’t often that I saw this man cry. I saw his hurt. He was sad about Lizzy.

Summer 1999

We decided not to find out the sex of the baby. This was our first and wanted to be surprised.  We went to a new parent class at our local hospital and we were the only couple that didn’t know. Damon “just knew” it was going to be a boy. So much that he painted the baby room blue!!  It was called angel blue. Our baby showers were generic with gifts that could go for a boy or a girl.  I’m sure he had all his teaching friends that he was having a boy too. We were getting a lot of blue gifts.  I mean a blue pack and play. At one point, I said, “There is a chance we are having a girl D.” This is when he said, “I will do everything with a little girl that I can do with a little boy, so that would be great too.”

April 12, 2000

After our attorney finished with Damon, the defense just pounced. We had our depositions maybe two years before this. So for us to remember what we said and have the exact answer was a bit difficult. They would ask him a question and then give him a copy of his deposition and ask for clarification. Then our attorney would object and we would wait for the judge to discuss the answers with both attorneys at her bench.  This kind of stuff ate up a lot of time. Over all, Damon was strong and I am proud of him.  This was difficult as I was to learn.

I remember asking our attorney if I should bring the “book”. He said yes, take it up with you discretely.  I walked up to the stand and was told to raise my right hand and place my left on the Bible.  I set the “book” in my lap and looked at Damon.  I started to weep a little. I felt alone up there. He saw that and shot me those warm eyes with a nod of “you got this babe”.  I immediately felt less tense.

The very first thing was to show a video of Lizzy to the jurors. This was the first time they would put a face with a name. Lots of smiling through tears. Apparently, I was the witness they were really waiting for.  I was her mom.  I experienced everything.  I carried her and gave birth to her. My testimony would be crucial. 

After the video, my attorney started with some simple questions to get me warmed up and comfortable.  I had a very hard time looking at the jurors. I couldn’t because of the crying.  They were crying for us.  For Lizzy. They were parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters, and brothers. It was hard for them to sit and listen to this. Not being able to look at them, my attorney moved right in front of them so I was forced to “look” that way.  I remember being up there for some time. His questions were easy to answer.

During the defenses opening statements, they immediately put abuse at the forefront. Calling our lawsuit a frivolous one.  They wanted the jurors to know that my doctor that delivered Lizzy was well respected in the community. She had a successful 25 years as an obstetrician/gynecologist with many healthy babies being delivered.  She sat with her attorney’s everyday and never looked at us. Its not everyday you get accused of abusing your precious baby girl.  I know what abuse is and have experienced it first hand. We tried for years to have a baby and she was wanted and planned for. So I was ready for everyone in that courtroom to see the “book”.

April 2000

I was playing a game of scrabble with my mother in law and had Lizzy in her car seat on the floor next to me.  She was sleeping and was going to wait until she woke up to take her out of it.  While playing, I knocked off a pocket dictionary off the table and it fell on Lizzy.  She woke up and cried for 30 seconds and I rocked her back to sleep. I put her in her crib and that was the end of it. This “book” is part of a desk reference set that had 75 pages in it.  It was a hardbound book.  It was the smallest book in the set. Lizzy had no markings on her from it. I was honest about everything and made sure it was in my deposition.

April 12, 2005

Knowing that that incident could not cause the kind of disability we were experiencing, I was not worried.  What I was worried about is the jurors thinking this is what caused her to be the way she was.  This was the reason for having the “book”.  When the defense attorney made his opening statement, he said that I purposely dropped a huge dictionary on her. I immediately strongly disliked him and the two women he had with him. 

My attorney finally gets to the “book” and I get butterflies.  He said “Lisa, you have been accused of dropping a huge and heavy dictionary on Lizzy.  Do you have this huge book with you today?” I said, “Yes sir.” He then asks me to hold up the book for everyone to see. So I hold it up and look at the jury. Lots of smiles, which made me, feel good. 

The defense had their time also. They scared me. They asked questions about her Medicaid and expected me to know all about it.  All I know about Medicaid is that they were paying for all her medicines, doctor visits and therapies. They tried to trip me up, but the judge wouldn’t have it. My experience on that stand was like no other.  I felt so many emotions while there.  Anger, sadness, bitterness, hate, love, compassion, loneliness, and fear. 

We were done. I was the last witness. It was their time. Tomorrow will be hard; as they would try to convince the jury we abused her.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ten Years Ago - Day Two

April 11, 2005

Day two.  We were told to wear clothes that we would wear to work.  So Damon looked like he was going to school everyday and I looked...presentable.  I was a stay at home mom so my go to clothes were leggings and a sweatshirt.  Our attorneys would explain to us what would happen that day. Experts they would call. Just keeping us in the mix. Really, we just sat there and listened. We really had no part in these first two days.  Day three would be our time.

We had our friend/pediatrician take the stand. He was great. He was there at her birth. I remember him coming into my recovery room with Damon.  It was 7:00 at night and I still had not seen Lizzy. She was born at 9:00 that morning.  Damon shut the tv off and sat down in the chair in the corner of the room and put his head in his hands.  Dr. Key sat on my bed and took my hand. He told me that there was nothing more they could do for her here at this hospital and that she needed to be transported to the children’s hospital.  I had no idea that there was anything wrong.  I cried and begged to see her before she left. They rolled in this tube with her in it.  They opened it up and I was able to touch her toe. I would hold her three days later.

Damon coached his son in basketball.  However, there was a time when he had to make a tough medical decision with us, and it was painful.

January 2000

Lizzy had a well baby check up with Dr. Key. She was three months old.  He did the normal checks with her. Weigh, height, head circumference, and asked how she was with her seizure medicine. The only side effect was that she was a lethargic baby. Phenobarbital is a strong seizure medicine and I hate it. The hospital needed to stop her seizures at birth and that is what they started her on. She would come off in a few months because she was showing no development.  Her check up was uneventful and we left.  A week later I get a call from the neurologist that saw her at the children’s hospital. It was after school when I got the call from him.  He sounded panicked. He told me that he received her latest cat scan of her brain and she was bleeding. She had a cat scan at birth and follow up one in late December.  He told me to get to children’s hospital immediately. My heart began pumping so fast and I was just crying. I scooped baby girl up and strapped her in the Astro van and we headed to the high school.  Damon was in basketball practice and he saw me walk in and ran towards me. I told him what the neurologist told me and we left.  We get to the children’s hospital in a panic.  Oddly, no one else was. Her doctor was not there and we waited an hour to get a room. The whole situation just got weird. When we finally got a room for her, a nurse would come in here and there and check on her. Lizzy was calm and happy. So we stayed overnight because they told us to. They said the ophthalmologist would be in the next day. The ophthalmologist?  Isn’t that an eye doctor?  The next morning, the ophthalmologist came in to examine Lizzy. Told us she has some visual defects and gave us a referral to see a local eye doctor. This was the first that we knew of any disabilities with her. They he said “I don’t see any tears (not watery), and the cornea looks fine.”  Crickets in the room.  “Um, what?” I was confused.  Then he just left the room. The next person to walk into the room almost made me vomit. She introduced herself as a social worker for the county. I just about lost it. What was happening here? As she examined Lizzy, she just stopped and her head dropped. She says that she is done and that she feels bad even walking into our room today. She said she was so sorry. We are a loving couple with a beautiful baby and she knows that we haven’t abused her. Now I could have lost it but felt grateful for her. She was gentle and kind with us. But, honestly, I was still confused why she was even there. We were discharged immediately after she left.

We followed up with Dr. Key a few days later and this is where he dropped the bomb.  When we had seen him for her well baby check up, he measured her head. Finding that it had grown very little since birth, he was concerned. He called her neurologist and discussed her latest cat scan. Her neurologist assumed that she was being abused.  Dr. Key told him he knows that that was not true but as a physician, he was legally responsible to report it. I was in tears at this point. Damon’s jaw had dropped open about two seconds into Dr. Key opening his mouth. Dr. Key was just heartbroken he had to do this. When he spoke with the neurologist he told him to get this done quick, rip it off like a band-aid. Lizzy was admitted for protective custody.  They were watching us interact with her.  He apologized then went on to explain the “bleeding on the brain” cat scans.  Lizzy had a scan at birth. There were no issues and her brain look normal.  Her late December 1999 scans showed a different brain. One that had shrunk and pulled blood vessels.  Her brain at birth was swollen from the trauma and the swelling had gone down in these three months and caused bleeding from the pulling of the blood vessels.  I could use medical words but won’t.  This is when she was diagnosed with microcephaly. Which is a rare neurological condition in which the head is smaller than other normal heads.

April 11, 2000

Dr. Key was a great expert witness. He made us feel great, telling the jury what kind of parents we were. That our families go to church together and that Damon was a great teacher and coach.  Then the defense would try to discredit everything by digging up “dirt” on us. There was none but they tried. For example, after I had Emily in 2002, I took a break from Lizzy’s therapies. Just for a few weeks. They tried to say a good mother wouldn’t have taken a break. I won’t lie, I felt a little bad taking a break after hearing that but it was four years ago at that point so I moved on.

This is how it would go for the day. We would have witnesses take the stand and the defense would refer back to their depositions and try to make them slip up. Tomorrow would be hard.  Damon and I would take the stand. How do you prepare for that?  You don’t.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ten Years Ago - Day One

10 years ago today we started our trial. I remember it. Well, most of it. Lizzy was 5. I was 31 and Damon was 32. We had moved from Sumter to Myrtle Beach in 2003. Damon was teaching and coaching. Same thing he did in Sumter. A brand new school opened and he was blessed to get right in and become the head golf coach. I was a stay at home mom to Lizzy and Em, who was 2 at the time.  Lizzy was going to school and Em was in preschool. I was still driving my Astro van. I loved it.  All Lizzy’s equipment could fit in the back.

We arrived at the courthouse after staying in a hotel in Sumter, SC.  This is where she was born so naturally  this is where the trial was. I was so anxious. I remember walking into the courtroom just shaking. I had never been in a courtroom before. It was intimidating. We were told to sit to the left of the courtroom.  Not in the front but in one of the “pews” in the courtroom. The right side was about 100 potential jurors. They were summoned for jury duty for our case. A case that started in 2000.  It was a long 5 years of excruciating ups and downs.

October 1999

I came home after getting my records from the hospital (finally) and immediately contacted the first attorney I could find that “looked” professional.  I didn’t know any better and I was desperate. My intuition had kicked in. I knew I wanted someone with lots of experience.  This was only after having an argument with Damon about it. He was totally against any kind of litigation. Too public. He said no. I said yes. I called this attorney at 7:30 at night and he took my call. Thank you Mr. Pat McWhirter.  He listened to me for a very long time. He said he would help us. I felt relieved already. He called me a few days later and said that he had spoken with Ken Suggs in Columbia and he would take our case. And just like that, we had representation. Not one penny upfront.

April 10, 2005

As I sat in the courtroom, I looked at the people that were there to sit on the jury for our case. I was nervous that they weren’t  able to understand what happened or that they would assume things about us as parents. I knew what the defense was going to do, and it was going to hurt. Bad.

The judge walks in and just starts with the elimination of people. She asked several questions to the group including these

o   Have you ever been a juror on a malpractice case before?
o   Are you a teacher?
o   Have you ever known the plaintiffs?
o   Have you ever brought a lawsuit again anyone?

If they answered yes, they would go up to the judge and explain further. Then she would dismiss them. Amazingly we ended up with just the right amount.  12 jurors with 2 alternates.  And so the trial began…immediately.

We moved to the table in front of the courtroom. This was our place for the next four days.  Right next to the jury.  They watched us those four days too. Our attorney had his opening statement. Then called our first witness. I will always remember this guy. He had dark hair. Thin. Just a regular guy. He was an obstetrician/gynecologist. He stopped working for personal reasons and was living with his parents. When he opened his mouth, I was stunned by what he said about Lizzy. As a doctor, he said he would have delivered her at 11:00 pm, the night before!!  This man was emotional about Lizzy. He taught all of us how to read a fetal monitor strip. I just cried. Now I know why those monitor strips were missing from my records when I finally got them.

After we broke for the day, we met him outside the courtroom and he just broke down. Hugged us and told us how sorry he was.  His testimony was strong.

When we left court for that first day, we went back to our hotel room. Damon and I would talk a bit about the day. We were tired. It ‘s emotional. Bedtime was early for us. We would go all day these four days.


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