Two years ago, at the annual retreat for the Virginia deafblind family support group, everyone in attendance fell in love with a child named Joseph. This retreat was the first one Joseph and his family had attended, and our retreat was made so much richer by their presence. Joseph and his family made history this week in Virginia, and their story needs to be shared.
Joseph is now 4 and needs care and monitoring 24 hours a day. He has cerebral palsy, has no coordinated use of his limbs and can't speak. He has major neurological deficits. This week, his parents came to Virginia’s capitol city to finally realize a sort of closure to the events which set in motion Joseph’s disabilities. In the words of Lee Ann, Joseph’s mother:
“I finally have some sense of closure to what happened to Joseph when he was born.
We went to Richmond this past Friday to listen to an informal hearing with the Department of Health Professions in regards to Dr. Evelyn Anna Ruelaz and allegations that she violated laws governing the practice of medicine associated with my pregnancy with Joseph and my labor and his delivery.
The special committee put together questioned Dr. Ruelaz's actions that day, and we had to relive every minute of that day he was born. I was given the opportunity to read a statement I prepared about the event of that day per my recollection, and then told them all the things Joseph is not able to do now and how Dr. Ruelaz's actions (or lack thereof) have affected our lives forever.“
This article in the Richmond Times Dispatch goes into more detail about the doctor’s actions at the time of Joseph’s birth.
Joseph’s mother goes on to say:
“After a brief 30 minute closed door session, the committee found Dr. Ruelaz guilty of all allegations and issued a reprimand on her record. This will all be public knowledge and the final order will be available to anyone who would like to know about it. I do believe this sets a precedent [in Virginia] as this is the first doctor that has been reprimanded in one of these cases.
Dr. Ruelaz admitted at least 3 times during the hearing that she should have delivered Joseph at least 3 hours earlier, and once she even admitted she should have delivered him at least a week earlier.
Dr. Ruelaz was found guilty of:
- failing to recognize sings of pre-eclampsia and failure to take appropriate action to properly assess the condition of the fetus,
- failing to properly assess fetal monitoring strips and the condition of the fetus,
- inappropriately increasing Pitocin despite non-reassuring fetal heart tracing,
- failing to perform a timely amniotomy and failing to timely deliver the fetus despite recurrent late decelerations and thick meconium."
While nothing can now undo the challenges little Joseph will face for the rest of his life, at least SOMETHING was done. I’m proud of Joseph’s family for pursuing this, even though I am sure it was very difficult to relive in detail the horrors of the day Joseph was born. And I’m proud of the Virginia Department of Health Professions for not trying to sweep this under the carpet.
Let this case serve as a warning to everyone to research the past of any doctor you are considering or are currently seeing, and when something goes wrong that you feel could have been prevented, speak up and speak loudly.