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Malpractice lawsuit over mom's death by bleeding after childbirth nets $4.6 million award


The family of a woman who bled to death after delivering her first child was awarded $4.6 million Thursday by a Wright County, Minn., jury in a malpractice and wrongful-death suit brought against the hospital where she gave birth.

Claudia Calcagno of Albertville began hemorrhaging and died hours after her son was born on Jan. 18, 2008, at Monticello Big Lake Community Hospital, now New River Medical Center. Her doctors were unable to perform surgery that could have saved her life because the hospital failed to provide blood for transfusions quickly enough, even though it was "sitting right in their refrigerator," an attorney for Calcagno's husband argued.

"Her doctors needed blood to save her life," said attorney Kathleen Flynn Peterson.

The jury's award isn't the largest ever seen in a Minnesota malpractice case, but multimillion-dollar verdicts against health-care providers are unusual, said Peterson.

In a statement issued Friday, the hospital declined to release expert witness documents supporting its position, saying they contained private medical data. "Our thoughts and sympathy go out to the Calcagno family," the statement said. The hospital is considering an appeal.

Peterson said the hospital argued in court that Calcagno's doctors were negligent, and should have gone ahead with the surgery. Two doctors were named in the suit along with the hospital, but Peterson said it became clear to her that they were not at fault.

The jury found that neither doctor was negligent. The award includes compensation to Claudia Calcagno's family for past and future economic loss, as well as the loss of her companionship.

Robert Calcagno declined a telephone interview. "He lost the love of his life, and I don't think he's ever going to get over it," Peterson said.

The Calcagnos had been married several years before Claudia learned she was pregnant, Peterson said. The couple was thrilled, she said. Robert Calcagno planned to be a stay-at-home dad for a few years while Claudia kept working as an executive assistant for Catholic Health Initiatives.

Calcagno, 36, was 41 weeks pregnant when admitted to Monticello Big Lake Community Hospital on Jan. 17, 2008, to have labor induced. Her labor stretched into the next day, and after she had pushed for two hours, her obstetrician ordered a caesarean section. At 6:50 p.m., she gave birth to a healthy son, Vico.

But mistakes that contributed to her death had already been made, Peterson argued. Court documents say that a routine order for type and screening of Calcagno's blood put in before her C-section wasn't done until hours later. And in accordance with its own policy, the hospital did not stock blood of her type -- A negative -- falling short of accepted standards for medical practice, Peterson said.

At 8:50 p.m., nurses checking on Calcagno found that she was bleeding heavily. Her doctors were called, and a surgery team was paged.

A doctor who examined Calcagno ordered blood for her. The hospital lab sent the O negative blood, traditionally the universal donor type, it had in stock. A 911 call was also made to get blood from a hospital 12 miles away, but it's unclear when it arrived.

Calcagno could have received A or O positive blood, but her doctors said they were never told it was available.

She was taken to the operating room for an exam under anesthesia and possible treatment, including surgery to remove her uterus. But her doctors decided against that.

According to documents, they were concerned that they wouldn't be able to control potential bleeding problems if they went ahead with surgery, and they felt they had stabilized Calcagno. Instead, they decided to transfer her to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. As a medical crew from North Memorial wheeled her to a helicopter, two more units of blood arrived and were sent with her.

During the postpartum hemorrhage, Calcagno lost at least 4,000 milliliters of blood. By the time she reached North Memorial, she was in critical condition, with dangerously low blood pressure. Despite treatment, including a blood transfusion, her heart stopped beating shortly after she arrived at the hospital. Doctors started an emergency hysterectomy, but despite efforts to revive her during surgery, she died.

With help from grandparents, Robert Calcagno is staying at home for Vico's early childhood. "He wants to keep that pledge to Claudia," Peterson said.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.