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Jul 13, 2013 04:47 AM EDT

Washington University to pay $15 million In a Medical Malpractice Settlement that Left Girl Disabled

A judge has ordered University of Washington (UW) to pay $15 million to the family of 8-year-old MacKenzie Briant who suffered permanent brain damage after taking a nasal decongestant suggested by the school's doctor at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Briant's family sued both the university and hospital in 2011 in King County Superior Court, alleging carelessness.

"I worry all the time that she's in pain or trapped in her body," said the girl's mother, Elaine Briant. "I just didn't want this to be her life."

About four years ago, when Briant had cold and a blocked nose, Dr. Cory Noel, a UW cardiology fellow working in the Transplant Service, recommended a dose of Afrin, even though Dr. Yuk Law, the girl's cardiologist, warned against administering the drug because it could lead to heart problems. She had undergone a heart transplant as a child.

As predicted by the cardiologist, Briant suffered a cardiac arrest soon after her mother gave the drug as it deprived her brain of oxygen.

"The medical literature is clear. Giving a heart-transplant patient a dose of Afrin is unacceptable," said Briant family attorney Ralph Brindley. "It was unbelievable. Because of the cardiac arrest she was without oxygen for a substantial period of time and suffered a severe brain injury."

Briant's case is considered to be one of the largest medical malpractice settlements in the state's history. The Snoqualmie girl now requires 24/7 nursing care.

"It's taken an incredible toll," said Elaine. "She cannot move with purpose, she cannot communicate other than making some noises that we try very hard to decipher, she is fed through her stomach, she requires 24 hour care. It's just changed the whole way our family lives."

Brindley claimed that the tragedy occurred due to the doctor's negligence.

"It could have been avoided if there had been a repeat back policy," said attorney Ralph Brindley. "'You told me to give Afrin? Is that what I understand?' And that's what they should do in the medical community and I think they do in most instances."

The university apologized for the girl's brain injury, but defended the doctor's decision to prescribe the drug.

"We believe that the use of Afrin, a commonly used over-the-counter cold remedy, did not lead to Mackenzie's [cardiac] arrest; however the judge on this case ruled in favor of the plaintiff and her family," the university said.

Elaine said that the settlement money will help them provide better care and further treatment options for Briant.

"Her quality of life is our biggest concern and helping her regain any mental function that we can."

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