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Federal judge hands down $33 million malpractice judgment

| Sunday, April 30, 2017, 9:09 p.m.

MIAMI — Marla Dixon was in the final stage of labor and ready to deliver a baby boy when the obstetrician arrived at her bedside at North Shore Medical Center in Miami.

It was not a high-risk pregnancy. But over the next 90 minutes, the doctor made a series of missteps that led to a tragic outcome for Dixon and her baby — and a $33.8 million malpractice judgment, according to a federal lawsuit.

The Miami Herald reports the verdict ruled the doctor ordered nurses to restart a drug to strengthen contractions, failed to perform a Cesarean section — and walked away from Dixon's room for long periods, once for an eight-minute phone call from his stockbroker.

The verdict was handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola in late April.

By the time the baby was delivered on Dec. 2, 2013, he was blue in the face and his limbs were limp, according to the verdict handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. It took a medical team to revive the infant, named Earl Jr., and by then he had severe brain damage from lack of oxygen, according to the lawsuit filed by Dixon and the boy's father, Earl Reese-Thornton, Sr.

The doctor, Dixon said later, blamed her for not pushing hard enough. He also tried to cover his tracks by falsifying the 19-year-old mother's medical record with a note that made it appear she had refused a C-section, according to the testimony of the nurse in charge of delivery.

“Not one time did he apologize,” Dixon said of the doctor, whose name is Ata Atogho. “He didn't care. He kept going on with his lies. He blamed me.”

Atogho did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails because he's on vacation, according to an assistant at Metro-Miami Obstetrics and Gynecology in North Miami Beach, where he works.

Lawyers for the U.S. Attorney's Office, which represented Atogho in the Dixon case because he worked for the federally funded Jessie Trice Community Health Center at the time, refused to comment.

But as Dixon would later find out, she was not the first parent to sue Atogho for seriously injuring a newborn he delivered in 2013.

Atogho delivered two babies that year who were permanently brain damaged, and a third who was disabled for life, according to lawsuits filed by the injured infants' mothers — all of whom were teen-aged moms receiving care at Jessie Trice, which serves many of Miami's low-income and uninsured residents.

Despite the verdict in Dixon's case, Atogho has not received a reprimand and no other disciplinary action has been taken against his Florida medical license for the incident. He's not personally liable for the $33.8 million judgment, either.

The U.S. government is on the hook for the money. Dixon and Reese-Thornton were able to sue the federal government because Atogho worked for a federally funded health clinic.

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