Courts & Crime

Did drug tied to Michael Jackson death kill Idaho boy?

BOISE, Idaho — Two-year-old Michael Hall was at a party June 22, 2002, when he reached for some food that had dropped. So did the host's golden retriever.

When Michael tried to take the food away, the dog bit him on the face, severing a piece of his cheek. He was taken to a local hospital where an attempt to reattach the skin failed.

To keep him from touching the injury or reacting to treatment, doctors kept Michael restrained and sedated with propofol, a powerful anesthetic that investigators believe caused the June 25 death of singer Michael Jackson.

On June 27, 2002, the boy was declared brain dead. He died the next day after being taken off life-support. His brain died from a lack of oxygen caused by swelling from too much water.

Melinda Coombs, Michael's mother, sued Dr. Russell Griffiths, who had performed surgery on Michael and ordered that he be put on propofol, and Dr. Adrian Curnow, Michael's primary physician in the Intensive Care Unit.

A jury in 4th District Court found in favor of Coombs on Sept. 19, 2007, and awarded $750,000 in damages. But the doctors filed motions stating Coombs hadn't presented enough testimony to prove they were negligent and asked District Judge Deborah Bail to issue a judgment in their favor in spite of the verdict, which she did in March 2008.

Bail noted that Coombs had only one witness stating that long-term propofol use was the cause of the boy's death, while "all the other witnesses testified that it was not possible to determine the cause of cerebral edema."

Attorneys for Coombs and the doctors declined to comment, but briefs filed with the Idaho Supreme Court lay out the arguments on both sides.

Attorney Donald Lojek, representing Coombs, said in his statement to justices that propofol was not supposed to be used on young children in critical conditions for long periods. Use of the drug lowered Michael's blood pressure so his brain was deprived of oxygen, causing death, Lojek wrote.

According to the Federal Drug Administration Web site, the agency warned in February 2001 that propofol shouldn't be used for long-term pediatric intensive care sedation, more than 24 hours, because its safety hadn't been established. And a single, multi-center trial found that the number of deaths among children sedated with the drug were higher than the number of deaths in children treated with other sedatives, 9 percent versus 4 percent, the Web site said.

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