The U.S. government agreed to pay a $125,000 settlement over a missing thumb. Baelya Gutierrez, 11, lost her left thumb in a medical mishap at an urgent care clinic associated with the U.S. Navy. Despite the loss, Baelya is remarkably optimistic and approaches the situation with a great sense of humor.
Playground stories count for a lot at her age and Melanena, Baelya’s mother, says she’s heard quite a few good ones from Baelya. “Death of the digit,” the official diagnosis is far too boring for Baelya. Especially since she’s constantly inundated with “How did you lose your thumb?”
The creative little girl has answered, “wolf bit it off,” “piranhas” and other much more interesting answers. All are better than the truth. Baelya accidentally shut her thumb in a car door. The injury needed a nerve block and stitches at an urgent care facility connected to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Before she left the clinic, a nurse applied a 3M compression bandage.
This happened on August 12, 2011 when Baelya was only 7 years old. Her mom took the bandage off on the 13th after her daughter complained that it was too tight. She put a loose gauze wrap on to replace it. It took three more visits – on the 15th, 16th, and 17th – before doctors diagnosed the problem as “necrosis of the pulp.” Baelya underwent surgery on August 24th to have the thumb removed.
All the family wanted was for the nurse to apologize for the error. However, the clinic staunchly refused to admit wrongdoing. Due to the clinic’s response, the family switched gears and filed suit asking for $2M in damages. It should be noted that Baelya is left-handed. She was helped by a friend in her efforts to learn to write with her right hand. As Baelya says, “She just took a bunch of crayons and stuck them in my hand and said, ‘Write.'”
Baelya’s father, a chief petty officer on the George Washington, said that they decided to pursue the suit to give Baelya a better chance at a successful future. She originally wanted to join the military to become a corpsman, then retire and help veterans in the VA Medical system. While she may still be able to do so, her fine motor skills are not as good as they could be, which may give her difficulties.
The government fought the suit, but finally agreed to the $125,000 settlement. After attorney’s fees and litigation expenses, Baelya will receive the balance of $72,919. It will be invested in an annuity and she’ll get lump sum payments at ages 18, 21 and 25. The payout will total about $99,452 so she should be able to pursue a college education and career, whether in the medical field or not.
“We refuse to let this hold her back,” her mother said. “No matter what, she can do whatever she wants to do.”