An Alabama doctor accused of negligence in the death of a young patient secretly called and visited the medical examiner’s office before the autopsy report was issued, according to an amended lawsuit.
Court documents obtained by Atlanta Black Star show that Kamiya “Cookie” Dufermeau was diagnosed with appendicitis on April 18, 2021. She was treated with nonsurgical options and sent home from the emergency department of the Children’s of Alabama hospital in Birmingham the next day. However, nine days later, her symptoms worsened, and the 7-year-old returned to the hospital and had emergency surgery on April 27, 2021. A little more than a week later, she died.
The autopsy report shows Cookie died because of an undiagnosed and untreated post-surgical bowel complication. The child’s intestines were twisted in two places, obstructing her bowel. Part of her bowel near where the appendix was removed rotted out. Cookie’s mother, on September 13, 2021, sued the hospital, surgeon and pediatrician who misdiagnosed her for malpractice, claiming a wrongful death.
Sherry Robinson said the pain of losing her daughter has been “unbearable.”
“Kamiya, I miss you so much. I would do anything to hear your voice again,” Robinson posted on social media.
Robinson’s attorneys said the mother trusted the doctors to care for her daughter properly. However, when Cookie fell ill after her surgery, her regular pediatrician, Dr. Theresa Bolus, dismissed her symptoms as pinworms without examining the girl. Still concerned about her daughter, who was lethargic, vomiting and nauseous, Robinson spoke to the surgeon Dr. Colin Martin about the symptoms. Martin then relied on Bolus’ diagnosis and advised Robinson to give Cookie the medication for pinworms. Cookie died the next day.
Cookie started with a fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, decreased appetite and loose stool around April 16, 2021. Her parents took her to the children’s hospital when over-the-counter medications did not work. The family returned to the emergency room a week after the initial visit because she had been “curled up in a ball” and was crying in pain. The lawsuit says medical records show the child had right-quadrant abdominal pain and her appetite had decreased.
Martin performed a laparoscopic appendectomy. Cookie was well enough to return to school on May 3, 2021, but later that evening, she was sluggish, tired and weak, the lawsuit says. Robinson took her daughter to Bolus, who works in a medical center owned by the hospital, the next day. The lawsuit says Bolus had previously suspected Cookie had appendicitis and was the one who referred her to the hospital’s emergency department when she was given nonsurgical treatment.
Still, the lawsuit alleges that Bolus ignored the standard of care by not performing a physical exam or imagining. Representatives from Martin’s office, after hearing Cookie’s symptoms, told Robinson to follow the pediatrician’s instructions, also ignoring the standard.
“The mother was still concerned about the child, and she contemplated going to the emergency room,” Blaudeau told CBS 42. “Ultimately, she decided to trust the doctors, who told her it was OK.”
Cookie’s grandmother called 911 on May 5, 2021. The child had a seizure. Emergency personnel found her covered in vomit and without a pulse. After revival efforts, she was transported to the hospital with a light pulse and unresponsive, where additional attempts by hospital staff failed, court documents show.
The autopsy report shows Cookie had bowel necrosis meaning the tissue in her bowel had died near the site of the surgery.
Blood had also stopped flowing to her bowel in the area — intestinal ischemia. According to the National Library of Medicine, it is a rare medical condition with a high mortality rate.
“The diagnostic approach in patients with intestinal ischemia depends on the severity of symptoms,” the study’s authors said. However, it can be detected through imagining options like a CT scan and a specialized ultrasound.
Radiation and lab tests could have also been used to detect the dead tissue in her bowels that needed to be removed, the National Library of Medicine states.
Robinson has accused Martin of witness tampering in the updated lawsuit. She claims the surgeon spoke to the forensic pathologist performing the autopsy about the cause and manner of the girl’s death and went into the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner’s Office and examined Cookie’s body. Martin and the pathologist both work at the University of Alabama, reports show.
Martin reportedly examined Cookie’s bowel and the stump of her appendix, which had been attached to her intestine by mistake. However, Martin did not notify the family that he checked the child’s organs, and the examination was not included in the final report, the new court documents show.
“Dr. Martin’s intentional contact with Dr. McCleskey before the rendering of the cause and manner of death operates as witness tampering or improper influence of a witness,” the lawsuit says. “Dr. Martin’s contact, discussions, and involvement in the autopsy process and with Dr. McCleskey influenced the findings and conclusions of the autopsy report, including the final cause and manner of death.”
Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates denied allegations that Martin saw the body before the final report but confirmed with CBS 42 that the office spoke to the surgeon.
“It’s not uncommon for us to talk to any medical staff that’s been treating a patient up to the time of the death,” Yates said. “On occasion, we’ll reach back out to a treating clinician/physician that was treating a patient prior to death to better understand the treatment procedures that were performed, to ask about any possible complications with those types of procedures.”
Although he was not clear on the conversation and it’s “not real common,” Yates said that Martin could have offered the “ins and outs” of his specialty to the pathologist. The deputy coroner said it would not have been an issue if the surgeon examined the body with staff present. Still, he could not recall a time when the office allowed outsiders to view and participate in an autopsy.
“It’s usually after the fact,” he said. “Most of the consults are after we have reviewed whatever records we’ve been able to obtain prior to the exam. Then the exam is performed and usually, there’s a consult afterwards.”
Cookie’s mother is seeking punitive damages under Alabama’s wrongful death law and any other relief the court believes should be awarded.
“I promise to be your voice and to keep fighting for you,” Robinson said. “Rest, baby girl. Your job done here is finished. Save me a spot.”