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W.Va. Couple to Settle With Government Over Failure to Diagnose

Oct 25, 2005 | AP
baby with brittle bone disease

Military Doctors Failed To Diagnose A Baby With Brittle Bone Disease.

A West Virginia couple will receive $950,000 from the federal government after military doctors failed to diagnose a baby with brittle bone disease and accused her parents of abuse, a family attorney said.

Alice and Miguel Velasquez of Martinsburg, W.Va., settled with the government after presenting their case at a bench trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The agreement ends an almost six-year battle between the couple and military doctors at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. Doctors' reports resulted in charges of felony child abuse against Miguel Velasquez and kept the couple's daughter Liliana in foster care for 18 months.

"One of the most hideous things you could be accused of is abusing a baby," said Dorothy Isaacs, an attorney for the parents. "Yes, you want to protect babies. But you don't protect them by taking them from a loving home and accusing (their parents) of abuse without any evidence."

Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore, declined to comment on the case, saying the government cannot sign the settlement until the guardian ad litem for Liliana has had a chance to review it.

Alice Velasquez Took 4-Month-Old Liliana For A Routine Checkup.

The family was living in Alexandria, Va., when Alice Velasquez took 4-month-old Liliana for a routine checkup at the Bethesda medical center in February 2000.

During the checkup, Alice Velasquez, an enlisted Army medical lab technician, asked about some bumps she had noticed on the baby's ribs.

When an X-ray revealed multiple rib fractures, she informed them that bone diseases ran in her family.

However, hospital staff never tested the child for brittle bone disease and instead insisted the fractures could only be the result of child abuse, according to Isaacs.

The doctors contacted child protective services in Alexandria and their daughter was promptly placed in foster care.

Miguel Velasquez, Liliana's primary caregiver, was arrested and charged with felony child abuse. He was also placed on a state registry of child abusers.

A public defender assigned to Miguel Velasquez's criminal case obtained court funding for Liliana to be tested for osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily. The test came back positive, and the Virginia court threw out the charges in January 2001.

Despite the test results, Liliana remained in foster care until July of that year. Her doctors still wouldn't concede that the girl's injuries were caused by brittle bone disorder, and child protective services wanted to be certain she would be safe.

Virginia did not remove Velasquez from its registry of child abusers until the state Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in August 2004.

In July 2003, the couple filed suit against the federal government for medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. The case was reassigned to Baltimore and was being heard in a bench trial earlier this month when the parties decided to settle.

While Judge Richard D. Bennett has agreed to the settlement, a judge in West Virginia still must approve it on Liliana's behalf before Bennett can sign the order, Isaacs said. The attorney said she hopes that will be done this week.

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