Parents sue California hospital over pediatric CT radiation overdose

A rural California hospital is being sued by parents of a child who underwent a CT exam during an emergency department visit for a neck injury. The parents allege that their 23-month-old boy received radiation burns and has permanent chromosomal damage due to excessive radiation exposure from the CT scan, which took over an hour to perform.

The incident allegedly took place on January 23, 2008, at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, a rural town of 17,000 located 290 miles north of San Francisco. Television news anchorman Sam Shane of CBS 13 of Sacramento broke the story on October 30.

The child received the scan after being taken to Mad River Community Hospital by his parents the day after he fell out of bed and injured his neck. A CT scan was ordered to determine if the child had internal injuries, according to court documents.

The parents stated that they were in the CT suite and observed the entire procedure. They claim that because their child did not lie still on the CT table, the technologist took 151 CT scans in a 65-minute period, at which time the parents insisted that the procedure be halted. A hospital radiologist who reviewed the images ordered an additional CT exam, the parents stated, and a different technologist took an additional 15 scans.

Two hours after the exams were completed, the boy developed radiation burns under his eyes on the bottom half of his face. The parents met with hospital managers when they returned the child to the hospital and said they were told not to be concerned about the visible burns on the child's body and face.

Don Stockett, a Folsom-based attorney, stated that the child received seven times the radiation of a normal CT scan, according to CBS 13 News. Stockett said that he sent blood samples for analysis to Dr. David Lloyd, a DNA specialist and principal investigator of the Molecular Design Group of the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.

"[The child's] blood sample was analyzed by Dr. Lloyd and proves that he has fairly serious chromosomal damage from the radiation exposure," Stockett told CBS 13 News.

Donna Tam, a reporter with the Eureka Times-Standard, reported on November 12 that Raven Knickerbocker, the radiologic technologist who allegedly performed the exam, was fired by Mad River Community Hospital in February. However, her license was not suspended by the California Department of Public Health until September 30. Knickerbocker had been a licensed radiologic technologist with the state of California since 2000.

California Department of Public Health spokesman Ken August told Tam that the state of California will determine whether any state or federal laws were violated. A hospital in violation can be fined up to $25,000, a fine that will increase to $100,000 in January 2009.

The lawsuit has a case management conference set for February 4, 2009. The hospital will not comment due to pending litigation, and the California Department of Public Health did not explain the six-month delay before suspending Knickerbocker's license to either CBS 13 or the Times-Standard.

By Cynthia Keen
AuntMinnie.com staff writer
November 20, 2008

Related Reading

CareCore endorses Image Gently campaign, November 12, 2008

Swiss pediatric CT survey leads to national dose standards, October 23, 2008

Study: Radiologists dial back on pediatric CT settings, October 4, 2008

FDA posts pediatric imaging advisory, June 25, 2008

Groups advocate less radiation for kids, January 23, 2008

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