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Laramie’s Story; by her Father, Doug Gegax 

The Day Laramie Died 

The Monday morning of October 23, 2006 started like most other beautiful fall days in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  My wife, Betty Jo, and I awakened our three kids – Laramie (age 9), Dylan (age 8) and Jessa (age 6) – at 6:00 a.m., got them dressed and made them breakfast.  I then walked them to the bus stop, which is just across the street from our house.  One by one, I guided each kid across the street; each one received my standard chant of “look both ways before you cross the street.”  Soon, like clockwork, the bus arrived and all three kids climbed aboard. 

 

I’ll never forget the look on Laramie’s face as she was the last one to climb onto the bus.  She was particularly happy that morning because just two days earlier she had received a new pair of boots and this was the first day she got to wear them to school.  At the foot of the school bus stairs she stopped and looked back.  Beaming her big beautiful smile and kicking up one of her boots Laramie said, “I love you daddy.”  “I love you too sweetie,” I replied.  As she often did, Laramie then stepped off the steps, gave me a big hug and then quickly ran up the stairs and disappeared into the rows of children inside the school bus.  As I had watched perhaps a thousand times before, the big door shut and the bus drove off to school.  While waiving goodbye to the bus, it never would have dawned on me that this would be the last time I’d see Laramie alive.

 

At approximately 4:30 that afternoon, I got the call I had always dreaded.  I answered the phone and it was Betty Jo. “I can’t find a pulse on Laramie,” she said with a sense of panic in her voice that raised the hair on the back of my neck.  Later I learned that, after doing her homework, Laramie complained of a headache.  So Betty Jo gave her some Tylenol and laid down with her until she fell asleep.  Soon after, Betty Jo returned to the living room to work on various Halloween projects with Dylan and Jessa.  After a while she checked on Laramie and found her lying on the floor unconscious next to her bed. 

 

After getting the call from Betty Jo, I ran to the elevator next to my office, left the building, got into my car and frantically drove off.  “Please get her pulse back,” I cried to myself.  “Don’t lose her,” I screamed while hitting the steering wheel.  Even then, however, I didn’t want to think the word, “die.”  Ten minutes later, I drove up to my house and parked in the street because the driveway was full with two fire trucks and an ambulance.   With this much help, I thought, Laramie’s pulse would surely return.

 

After what seemed like an hour (it was more like ten minutes), they wheeled Laramie out of her room and out the front door of our house.  As she lay there on the gurney with an oxygen mask firmly secured to her face, she looked like she was peacefully sleeping.  I remember wanting to comfort her by stroking her hair.  I felt confident that she was going to be revived.  I assumed that the first responders got oxygen to her soon enough to avoid brain damage.  I’ll never forget the image of her face while she was being wheeled out the front door to the ambulance: I felt sure that she was in good hands and that I would soon see her smile. 

 

Betty Jo and I followed the ambulance to the hospital and waited in a small room adjacent to the ER.  All we could do is hold each other and hope this panic would end soon – and on a good note.  Tragically, that didn’t happen.  At approximately 5:30 p.m. two doctors and a minister entered our little room.  I immediately knew we had lost our little girl.  A doctor told us that Laramie could not be revived and that she was dead.  We were then told that we could go see Laramie but – because it was unknown why she died – she would have to be driven 225 miles to Albuquerque that night for an autopsy. 

 

At the moment we entered the room in which Laramie was lying, everything seemed to stop.  I remember Betty Jo trying to keep Laramie warm – just like she had done nine years and ten months earlier just two floors above us in the maternity ward.  My life will forever be divided into two distinct parts: (1) my life prior to seeing Laramie’s lifeless body; and (2) my life after that moment.  The last time I saw Laramie alive was that very morning, smiling and getting on the school bus with her new boots.  Now here she was lying there dead – her boots crammed in the corner of the room – and we had no clue as to why.

 

Why Laramie Died: Our Education About Angiomas 

Our long path of trying to understand the nature of Laramie’s death has exposed to us both the best and the worst of the U.S. medical and legal industries.  Three weeks after her death, the New Mexico state Medical Examiner informed us that Laramie had died due to a massive hemorrhage of a single cerebral cavernous malformation (CCM, known also as an angioma) located on her right cerebellum.  The malformation was almost three centimeters in diameter.  No other CCMs were found.  Of course, neither Betty Jo nor I had ever heard of such an ailment; but with the help of the internet, and with time, we soon understood the nature of CCMs. 

 

The Medical Examiner put us in contact with Dr. Leslie Morrison, MD who serves as: (1) a practicing pediatric neurologist at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Medical Center’s Neuroscience Clinic in Albuquerque; (2) a Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics as well as Vice Chair in the Department of Neurology, UNM; and (3) a national expert in the area of cerebral cavernous malformations.  In addition to numerous in-office tests, Dr. Morrison ordered contrast and non-contrast gradient-sequencing MRIs performed on me and Betty Jo as well as on our surviving children, Dylan and Jessa.  Fortunately, the four of us are clear of any CCMs.  Based on these imagining tests – as well as the Medical Examiner’s report on Laramie – Dr. Morrison is virtually certain that Laramie’s malformation was sporadic as opposed to familiar (i.e., hereditary).

 

Dr. Morrison is a wonderfully gifted, extremely competent and kind medical professional who epitomizes what is best about the U.S. medical industry.  She was also the person who told us about the Angioma Alliance, which would help us realize that we didn’t have to feel like we were alone in all this tragedy and heartache.  I only wish we knew about all this – as well as Dr. Morrison – a year prior to Laramie’s death. 

 


Why Laramie Died: An Incompetent Doctor
 

Starting in the fall of 2005 – one year before her death – Laramie started exhibiting abnormal behavior such as agitation, unpredictability and aggressiveness.  Eventually, she would complain about the “yelling in her head.” Our local pediatrician suggested that we have Laramie seen by both a psychologist and a neurologist.  As part of her specialized care, Laramie became a patient of a particular local neurologist approximately a year before her death.  We will not disclose this neurologist’s name; rather, we will refer to “him” as “Dr.X.” Our hopes were that Dr.X would be able to either eliminate or identify any possible neurological reason for Laramie’s behavior.    

 

During the entire year that Laramie was under the care of Dr.X, he never once touched Laramie and certainly never did anything consistent with standard in-office neurological examination procedures.  Dr.X never even checked on Laramie’s height, weight, cranial size or blood pressure.  Moreover, on two occasions, he lied in his record (which we obtained shortly after Laramie’s death) saying that standard in-office neurological tests were conducted.  Dr.X did no such thing; he never touched our daughter.  Based on our later office visits with Dr. Morrison, and therefore seeing what standard in-office neurological examinations entail, we are 100% sure that Dr.X never performed any of these standard tests.  To quote one of the many lawyers who have reviewed this case, Dr.X “is a slacker.”

 

I was concerned that Dr.X was getting us nowhere because Laramie’s condition was not improving; but I’m not a doctor, so I stuck with Dr.X.  I will go to my grave with guilt because I should’ve found another neurologist.  If I would have, Laramie would still be alive.

 

For the last two weeks of Laramie’s life, she complained of continual headaches and nausea.  These complaints were conveyed to the school nurse by Laramie, were described in Laramie’s own diary (in her own words), and were conveyed to Dr.X by Betty Jo.  Dr.X failed to include these reports of headaches and nausea in his record as well as the concerns expressed to him by the school officials; but he did, for some strange reason, threaten to have the school nurse fired.

 

Dr.X’s response to the headaches and nausea was to alter Laramie’s Risperdal therapy that he had been prescribing.  Over the entire year he treated her, Dr.X consistently responded to Laramie’s symptoms by assuming her problems were solely psychological rather than possibly neurological in nature.

 

Laramie passed out one morning at school approximately two weeks before her death.  She was then sent home where she stayed in and out of a deep sleep the remainder of the day and throughout the rest of the night.  Again, Betty Jo immediately conveyed these facts to Dr.X, whereupon he failed to call for an MRI – or even ask us to bring Laramie into his office – instead, he simply suggested that we “cut the dose of Risperdal in half.”

 

Surprisingly, the events surrounding Laramie passing out at school were not included in the medical report we obtained from Dr.X shortly after Laramie’s death.  Laramie’s passing out at school was most likely caused by an initial bleed of her angioma.  Slow bleed oozing most likely continued off and on until that fateful day when she experienced a massive hemorrhage causing her to go into complete respiratory and cardiac arrest, which in turn led to her sudden death. Laramie’s passing out at school two weeks before her death, in conjunction with her complaints of headaches and nausea, was a sure sign of a probable neurological event.  Such an event would have required, as per standard neurological procedures, an MRI.  An MRI would have shown Laramie’s lesion, which could have been removed.  If this had been done, she’d be alive today. 

 

Shortly after Laramie’s death, Dr.X initiated a phone conversation with me.  While I never brought up the topic of an MRI during that conversation, he told me that the reason he did not call for an MRI was because he felt that the risks of sedation outweighed the additional informational benefits over and above what he already had obtained from his observations of Laramie during office visits.  I knew immediately that he was trying to cover his tracks: The risks of sedation are nil and he never did any in-office tests to gain this information “he already had obtained.” Interestingly, during this conversation, he was quick to add that he would do MRIs on our other children “right away.” Dr.X failed to ever formally diagnose Laramie – but curiously continued on a medical path consistent with a psychological rather than a neurological diagnosis.  Moreover, he did not provide standard medical care required in light of the information we had given him. 

 The Moral of Laramie’s Story 

Our hopes were that Dr.X would be able to either eliminate or identify any possible neurological reason for Laramie’s problems.  Instead he was the proximate cause of our little girl’s death. This so-called “pediatric neurologist” maintained a tunnel-vision attitude that Laramie’s problems were solely psychological in nature, which is surprising given that Dr. X is not a psychologist and given that he did not perform any standard neurological tests on Laramie.  What we really needed was a legitimate neurologist.

 

My wife and I are left with perpetual grief and a persistent unanswered question: How is it that Laramie could have been under the care of a certified pediatric neurologist for over one year but yet she still died of a major neurological event?

 

The moral of Laramie’s Story is that we need to take a proactive stance regarding our medical care.  If we have a feeling that the physician is being slack then we need to insist on standard procedures (e.g., an MRI in light of persistent headaches and “voices in one’s head”).  If the doctor refuses, then we need to fire him and quickly move on to someone else.  Go to the internet; do your own research; ask tons of questions; get second opinions.  No matter how arrogant he comes across, do not meekly acquiesce to a physician when your gut feeling is that something just isn’t quite right.  If I would have taken this advice, Laramie would still be alive. 

 Epilogue 

In this section we discuss the failure of the legal profession to help us.  We discuss a previous case against Dr.X wherein he clearly should have lost his medical license.  But he did not – leaving him to subsequently destroy other lives.

 

We were told of two cases where Dr. X molested his pediatric boy patients in his office.  Both cases were Texas jurisdictional.  One case was settled in civil court by the parents (which is beyond me why it still couldn’t have been sent to criminal court) and the other case was not brought to anyone’s attention until the victim committed suicide, which occurred after the statute of limitations expired.  I know all of this because the same law firm that “handled” these two cases (if that is what you call it) reviewed our case against Dr. X and told us (unsolicited I might add) about Dr. X’s acts of molestation.  (Given Dr. X’s history of pedophilia, I can now surmise why he doesn’t thoroughly examine his pediatric patients: It’s his way of attempting to keep his perversions in check.)

 

After our meetings with the aforementioned law firm, we were convinced that we had the enthusiastic legal support we needed to pursue a case against the incompetent Dr. X.  Surprisingly, one month later – and without any explanation as to why – this firm got cold feet and decided not to take our case.

 

WARNING:  Dr. X is still practicing medicine and nobody seems to have the guts to do the right thing in order to protect his patients.  If your child needs a neurologist, go to the University of New Mexico Medical Center’s Neuroscience Clinic in Albuquerque.

For the Angioma Alliance, see http://angiomaalliance.org/