A former Texas dentist was sentenced to probation after her botched procedure left a 4-year-old girl permanently brain damaged, blind, mute and in a wheelchair with 24-7 care because she can’t walk or eat.
Bethaniel Jefferson, 46, was found guilty of one count of recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child by omission in the case involving little Nevaeh Hall. A jury found Jefferson guilty of a lesser charge than what she had been indicted on, and prosecutors asked for 20 years, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I don’t think justice was served,” Assistant District Attorney Gilbert Sawtelle said, the paper reported.
Jim Moriarty, who represented Nevaeh’s family during civil lawsuits in the case, applauded the verdict.
“This verdict will make a difference,” Moriarty said, the Chronicle reported. “It will send a message to every crooked dentist and every incompetent dentist. It will send them a message that they will be held accountable.”
John Kovach, Jefferson’s attorney, told Law&Crime that his client screwed up and was criminally negligent in not calling 911. In court, he made an emotional plea to the jury not to send her to prison.
The grandmother of the girl, now 11, said the defendant “gets to walk free, live her life, going about her business,” she said, the Chronicle reported.
“Nevaeh won’t get to go to her prom, walk down the aisle and get married, enjoy her birthdays where she can run around and play, which is what a child should do,” she said.
The incident happened in January 2016, when Jefferson sedated Nevaeh, and the girl began having seizures, according to a document filed by the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners when it revoked Jefferson’s license for falling below the minimum standard of care.
Jefferson tried to treat the girl’s seizures by administering oral medications instead of contacting emergency personnel, the board said. She allowed the girl to remain in a “dangerous hypoxic state” for several hours before she called 911.
Nevaeh’s blood oxygen level dropped and remained low for about five hours. Jefferson did not realize that the girl was in shock and testified in her license revocation hearing that when she checked on the girl, “she thought the patient was cold.”
Jefferson gave the girl water orally using a syringe, but when she began having a seizure, she gave her Valium mixed with water. She calmed down and took more water but threw up the water and began shaking violently.
Jefferson called her pastor several times and a pharmacy to inquire about drug interactions.
The paramedics were called at about 4:30 p.m. When they arrived, the girl hadn’t been receiving oxygen. When paramedics started an IV, she had a seizure, and then another one when she got to the hospital’s emergency room.
A doctor noted Nevaeh had concerning symptoms on her neurologic exam and found her to be in a “stuporous state” and wasn’t opening her eyes or responding to any external stimuli, including her family.
Although she could breathe on her own, she could not control her secretions or swallow.
The doctor determined she had “hypoxic-ischemic brain injury due to lack of oxygen” and remained nearly “coma like” for several days.
The doctor did not see any improvement over several days while she was under her care and reported Jefferson to the board because she felt she should have called 911 as soon as the girl began having seizures.
She acknowledged wrongdoing, said she was in shock when her patient began having her first seizure that morning, and said if something like that happened again, she would immediately call 911.
A jury awarded the family $95.5 million in a civil lawsuit, but it could not be paid out in full because Jefferson’s malpractice insurance could not cover the costs, the Chronicle reported.
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