Judge awards $15.2 million for girl with brain damage after hospital error

by: Amy Clancy Updated:


The family of a Snoqualmie girl was awarded $15.2 million on Friday after a doctor at Seattle Children's Hospital mistakenly suggested a decongestant to treat the girl’s cold.

MacKenzie Briant was a rambunctious little girl who never sat still.  After the medical mistake, the now-eight-year-old has severe brain damage.

 MacKenzie had a heart transplant as an infant.  In 2008 she contracted a cold, so her mother, Elaine Briant, called Seattle Children's.  The child's transplant cardiologist, Dr. Yuk Law, warned Dr. Cory Noel, a cardiology fellow, that MacKenzie should not use Afrin because, as a vasoconstrictor, it can increase blood pressure, putting stress on the heart. 

But according to the lawsuit filed by the Briant family, Afrin is what Noel mistakenly told Briant to give her daughter.  Minutes after MacKenzie, then 4, was given Afrin, she went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing.

Her brain damage appears permanent.

“I don’t know what she feels and what she thinks,” Elaine Briant said through tears after the judgment.  “Sometimes I pray to God that she’s right there with me, and she knows what’s going on.  Other days, I hope she doesn’t know what’s going on.”

The Briants’ lawsuit was filed in October 2011.  On Friday, Judge John Erlick ordered the state of Washington and the University of Washington, which employed the doctors at Seattle Children's, to pay because of medical negligence.

The money will be used for MacKenzie, who is unable to speak, walk or feed herself.

“She needs 24-hour per day care.  And this should provide 24-hour a day care for MacKenzie,” said family attorney Ralph Brindley. "The mistake that was made was a communication breakdown.”

But the attorney for the UW and Seattle Children’s maintains the brain damage is unrelated. 

“The specialists concluded it was unrelated to the Afrin.  Our experts concluded it was unrelated.  The judge disagreed and we respect his judgment, but it’s a tough case,” said Clarke Johnson.

MacKenzie still receives care at Seattle Children’s, a hospital her mother calls “a wonderful teaching institution.”  Law continues to be her cardiologist.

Noel is currently working out of state.