Record settlement expected in Down Syndrome law suit
Wednesday, 02 May 2012, 13:41
NATIONAL NEWS - The mother of 5-year old Imke Lange who was born with Down's syndrome after doctors allegedly failed to do the necessary tests to determine whether the genetic abnormality existed, this week spoke of the agony she and her husband had gone through when they discovered their new-born baby had Down's.
Joanita Lange, a practicing lawyer, said she had wanted to make absolutely certain that she did not give birth to a Down's baby because she had seen the devastation that such children caused in other families.
"My husband and I love Imke dearly but the harsh reality is that Down Syndrome children take up every waking moment of your life. It is also having an effect on our other two children because Imke requires pretty much every moment of free time we have to see to her needs.
As a result Joanita and her husband Frederick are claiming substantial damages from the two doctors who had attended to Lange during her pregnancy.
Sunelle van Heerden, a professional consultant for the Pretoria law firm CP van Zyl Inc. who is handling the case said if the court found in favour of their client, the settlement could be substantial.
Counsel for two gynaecologists facing the multimillion rand damages claim, told the Pretoria High Court that it was not their fault as it was illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks. Council for the Lange's argued that according to South African Law, abortion after 20 weeks of gestation are permitted, subject to certain criteria, that would have allowed Mrs Lange to terminate the pregnancy if a diagnosis of Down Syndrome was made.
Lange and her husband Frederick are suing the medical experts as they said it was costly and extremely difficult to raise a Down Syndrome child.
Their daughter, Imke, is now five-and-a-half years old and needs specialised care, the court was told.
"There is no way I could ever explain to anybody the ecstasy and agony my husband and I experienced the day when Imke was born. One the one hand we were overjoyed and delighted when our child was born. We were equally devastated when we realised that our child had been born with Down's Syndrome.
"It has been an uphill fight from day one to keep her alive and well because she was constantly ill as is often the case with Down's children."
She estimates that it has cost her and her husband in excess of R1-million to provide the necessary care for Imke.
Lange earlier testified that if she knew she was carrying a Down Syndrome child, she would have elected not to continue with the pregnancy. She claims that the doctors had not fully informed her about the various tests and the dates on which they had to be done.
She was therefore unable to freely exercise her various options.
The specialists - Dr Johan Moller and Dr Elna Loock allegedly omitted to do the necessary tests and failed to explain all the tests available to establish the risk of Down Syndrome, she said.
Both defendants denied wrongdoing and laid the blame solely at the door of the mother. She discovered she was pregnant in January 2006 and consulted Dr Moller. He performed an ultrasound on the foetus at 11 weeks, but could not identify any abnormalities, he said. He advised her to return at 14 weeks when another test was due. He told her he was moving his practice and she never returned, he said.
Dr Loock said she saw Joanita Lange on April 21, 2006, and referred her to the pathologists for tests when she was 17 weeks pregnant. It is claimed that the woman only went to the pathologists on May 15, 2006, when she was more than 20 weeks pregnant and was told the tests could not be done.
Dr Look conceded that she did not mention the "cut off" date to Lange.
A handwriting expert, Karel Landman, took the stand on Monday on behalf of the couple, to testify about a medical folder on Lange, drawn up by Dr Moller. Landman said he forensically tested the folder and "without doubt" established the original notes had been erased. Notes made in pencil were made over the notes. He concluded that the folder "was tampered with or altered with a specific purpose".