ANTIGONISH: The father of a seven-year-old Antigonish boy who was awarded a $6 million settlement, after suffering preventable brain injuries during his birth, says his family is relieved to finally be able to look to the future.
“Relief is a good word to use,” Wade Chisholm said. “This was something that was very preventable, but something came out of it that helps Cullan live his life now.”
The largest personal injury settlement in Nova Scotia legal history stems from a lawsuit stating Cullan Chisholm suffered oxygen deprivation during his delivery which caused severe cerebral palsy.
“He’s dependent on us 24/7, he takes a lot of care,” Chisholm said. “He’s a joy to be around, he’s a happy-go-lucky kid – he’s just dependent on us 24/7.”
John McKiggan, the Chisholm’s lawyer, said this case is important because it shows the significant cost and huge financial burden of how much it actually costs to raise a child who has serious injuries.
“I’m pleased to get such a great result to help this family and look after Cullan for the rest of his life,” McKiggan said. “It ensures all his medical care will be met for the rest of his life and it provides a great deal of peace and mind for his parents.”
In any case like this, you tend to become personally involved, he said.
“Whenever I deal with cases involving children, I tend to think of my own kids,” McKiggan said. “So I was passionate about this case, perhaps I was more personally invested in this case than I have been with other cases I’ve dealt with.”
Dr. Allison Ball and the former Guysborough Antigonish Strait Heath Authority have agreed to the settlement, which needed court approval because it involved a child.
According to the statement of claim filed in 2012, two nurses attending the birth and the fifth-year obstetrical resident in charge, Dr. Allison Ball, failed to act and missed signs on the fetal heart monitor that Cullan wasn’t getting enough oxygen and was in distress.
At 10:40 a.m. on July 31, 2010, Cullan was born at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, grey and nearly lifeless, with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
His mother, Monique, had been in labour since the previous afternoon, and to induce and intensify her contractions she was given the drug oxytocin.
Cullan was later airlifted to IWK-Grace Health Science Centre where he would spend the next 72-hours inside an incubator, being chilled, trying to reduce damage to his brain.
Medical experts called by the plaintiffs testified Cullan suffered brain damage in two stages, once during the protracted labour and again during the delivery. They also claimed if an earlier intervention had taken place, such as a caesarean section, Cullan’s injuries would have been prevented.
“It’s been a stressful seven-and-a-half-years, mentally and physically on both me and Monique, so now we can and look to the future,” Chisholm said.
There will be nothing better to finally live like a typical family, he said.
“We just purchased a new accessible van,” Chisholm said. “Now we can just roll him on, things are just going to be easier now – the stress level won’t be as high.”
Chisholm recalled how much effort was put into doing what most people would deem as a simple task.
“Before, we would have to put Cullan in a car seat and then lifting him up and the wheelchair and putting it in the back of the van, and that was getting heavy,” he said. “But if we want to hop in the car and go downtown, there’s no more stress about how much work it really is.”
Cullan is unable to control his body due to severe cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment. He can’t speak, move or use the bathroom without the help of an adult.
Even though he’s in a wheelchair, like any other kid his age, Cullan loves the outdoors and with the new equipment the family has been able to purchase, they’ll be spending more time taking in the action.
One piece of equipment is called a hippocampe.
“If you want to go hiking, and go through the woods, you can’t really push a wheelchair through the woods,” Chisholm said. “But this device has got big wheels on it, and can maneuver through different terrains.”
On top of the hippocampe, the Chisholm’s have purchased a new sledge for hockey and an accessible bike that Cullan gets strapped into.
Chisholm also credits Challenger Baseball for being a major help in the family’s recovery process.
“Cullan’s been involved with Challenger Baseball for four years now and it’s been amazing,” he said. “Challenger Baseball was a way I could be involved with Cullan, he could be on a team, be in a uniform, participate with other kids, and he enjoys it – he loves it.”
Cullan’s future care is now guaranteed through a $3 million annuity purchased with the settlement, and will provide monthly payments for his care for the rest of his life.
This allows the Chisholm’s to get Cullan the things he requires to get through his life, without having to worry.
“We’re in the processing of building an accessible home, with a tracking system throughout the house, where Cullan can roam through the house on his own,” Chisholm said. “He’s looked after for the rest of his life now, we’re not going to be around forever, so he’s going to need the care for the rest of his life.”
Roughly $2 million, about one-third of the settlement, covered the developed costs during the seven-year legal fight with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Canadian Medical Protective Association, a non-profit that defends malpractice claims against doctors.
McKiggan emphasized there was no admission of fault by Ball or the health authority, or any finding of fault by the court.
“Whenever a case it settled, it’s always settled on what’s called without prejudice basis or with no admission of liability.”
Dr. Ball is responsible for $4 million of the $6 million settlement, while St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, through the health authority, is responsible for $2 million.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority did recognize a settlement was negotiated but wouldn’t comment any further due to privacy and confidentiality reasons.
Through her lawyer, Dr. Ball declined a request for comment.