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When doctors at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles told Eduardo Rivas that his 6-month-old son needed emergency surgery to repair a double hernia, he wasn’t sure what he should do. Eduardo’s wife had died of breast cancer shortly after the birth of little Nathan Rivas, who was born four months premature, and Eduardo knew that the decision was solely up to him to make.

Consequently, a legal battle ensued between Eduardo, the hospital, and the doctors who operated on his son. According to Eduardo, he never consented to the surgery that left Nathan brain damaged. Consequently, Eduardo filed a $19 million lawsuit against the hospital and two of his son’s doctors.

Since the trial began in Los Angeles Superior Court, Eduardo testified that he received a phone call on the night of November 16, 2007 from the doctor and a Spanish-speaking social worker informing him that his son needed an operation and had been transferred from the Glendale Memorial Hospital that evening to Children’s Hospital of LA. However, Eduardo also maintained that the social worker informed him in Spanish that the surgery would be “minor”, that the worst “thing that could happen was an infection”, and that “it could be treated with antibiotics”. Eduardo said he refused consent over concerns about the effects of anesthesia on Nathan, but the next day doctors performed the surgery. While hospital officials contended that Eduardo verbally consented, investigators with the California Department of Public Health found that the hospital could not supply any records proving that Eduardo actually consented. Furthermore, although Nathan was scheduled for morning surgery, doctors postponed it until afternoon “due to inability to get consent” according to a physician’s progress note cited in the state report. Moreover, in the nursing notes, a doctor attempted to get Eduardo to consent to the surgery at 7 a.m. and when he refused, the doctor told him to come to the hospital later “for further discussion”. However, when Eduardo came to the hospital, he testified that he could not reach his son’s doctors via the phone in the lobby of the hospital. Nevertheless, a consent form was completed at 9 a.m., signed by both the nurse and the surgeon, but did not include Eduardo’s signature as was indicated in the state report. The hospital spokesman argued that Eduardo consented to the surgery in English during a phone call with the surgeon the morning of Nathan’s surgery. While the hospital spokesman also maintained that Eduardo was offered a Spanish interpreter, the state investigators found otherwise, which is in violation of hospital policy. According to Eduardo, Nathan is now brain damaged, dependent on feeding tubes and a ventilator, and his care costs $1,100 a month. However, a Los Angeles jury ruled on Tuesday in favor of the hospital and two doctors.

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