When you think of medical malpractice, what comes to mind might include a doctor making an honest mistake, a miscalculation, or some confusion in communication among the medical team ended in an error that harmed a patient. But would you think that a doctor, who was in the process of delivering a baby who was already in distress, would step out of the delivery room to call his stock broker? For eight minutes while the baby’s brain was being deprived of oxygen and suffering irreversible damage with every second that ticked by, that is exactly what Ata Atogho, M.D. did.
A story in the Miami Herald details the ordeal that Marla Dixon and her partner went through in delivering their son. The pregnancy was not high risk, but the doctor’s mistakes during childbirth led to a catastrophic outcome for Dixon and her newborn son.
Dr. Ata Atogho, according to court records, failed to perform a C-section and walked away from Dixon’s room several times, once to take an eight-minute call from his stockbroker. The baby, Earl, Jr. was born blue. While the medical team managed to revive him, he had already suffered severe brain damage due to a lack of oxygen during the birth.
After the birth, Atogho blamed the mother for not pushing hard enough, and attempted to falsify Dixon’s records saying that she had refused a C-section, a nurse later testified. In a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Atogho. and Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Miami, in April 2017, a jury awarded the family $33.8 million to pay for a lifetime of 24-hour care for the infant who suffers from hypoxic ischemic-encephalopathy due to oxygen deprivation during childbirth.
A history of injuring babies
It turns out that Earl Jr.’s birth injury was not the first infant that Dr. Atogho delivered who suffered an injury that year. In 2013, Atogho delivered two other babies who suffered permanent brain damage, and their mothers also filed lawsuits against the doctor.
Amazingly, the Herald story says that despite Dixon’s verdict and the other two cases where the doctor’s malpractice caused serious and permanent injuries to newborns, Atogho has not received a reprimand, nor has any disciplinary action taken against his license. And because the clinic was federally funded, the doctor will not be liable for the $33.8 million judgement. The taxpayers will take care of that. Because he worked for a federally-funded hospital at the time of all three births, the United States government is named as the defendant. Dr. Atogho’s physician file with the Florida Department of Health reports that his license is “clear and active.”
If you want to look up the profile of a health professional in Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia Department of Health has a database where you can do a search. It bears noting that this information is self-reported by doctors and unverified by the board of health. Additionally, you can look up your local hospital on hospital safety grade to determine their safety score.