Living like “A Normal Family”: Raising a Child with a Birth Injury

by John McKiggan

In a landmark victory for 7 year-old plaintiff Cullan Chisholm, Dr. Alison Ball and the Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority have agreed to pay a total of $6 million in damages to Chisholm in what has been reported as the largest personal injury settlement in Nova Scotia’s legal history.

Represented by McKiggan Hebert’s John McKiggan, the case is significant because “it goes a long way to recognizing the very significant harm and huge associated costs that go with caring for a catastrophically injured child.”

“It’s fair to say that physicians, nurses are human. We all make mistakes,” John says. “But when someone makes a mistake that violates the standard of care — in other words when someone makes a mistake that was preventable — then they should be held accountable for that and that’s why we brought the claim.”

In response to the settlement, Cullan’s mother Monique herself expressed a great sense of relief that Ball and the Health Authority were being held accountable for her son’s injuries. Despite this, she knows that the road ahead of her family will not be without hardship.

“I guess with this settlement now we can live like—and I’m going to use quotes—like a ‘normal’ family,” she said.

What is life like for families, like the Chisholms, whose lives are drastically altered by birth injury to a child? What does a “normal family” look like after something so tragically preventable has happened? Cullan’s story provides us with examples of both the hardships and victories that come with living with a birth injury.

Cullan Chisholm’s Story

When Cullan Chisholm was born on July 30, 2010, Monique Chishom knew something was terribly wrong when he was born with his umbilical cord around his neck, grey and nearly lifeless as a result.

The claim filed on behalf of Cullan claimed that critical signs on the fetal heart monitor indicating that he was not receiving enough oxygen were missed.

““To be a brand new mom, to have one of the most exciting, emotional times of your life, only to see your son nearly dead, and the next time you see your son is shivering, freezing cold in an incubator, those are just scenes I will never, ever forget,” Monique said during an interview.

Cullan suffered a medical injury called Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy or HIE. Basically, his brain didn’t get enough oxygen during labour and delivery.  Medical experts retained on Cullan’s behalf concluded that a C-section birth would have prevented the injury from ever occurring had the signs of asphyxia been noticed in the first place.

As a result of his birth injuries, Cullan has severe cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment, meaning that he cannot control his body, speak, move or use the bathroom without help from an adult, and will require round-the-clock care for his entire life.

In the years leading up to the settlement, Cullan’s medical care, equipment and hospital visits took a financial toll on the family. Monique has been unable to work for years due to Cullan’s need for constant care, causing additional strain which she hopes will be alleviated from the settlement. She hopes that the money from the settlement can be used to build an accessible home, as well as hire a full-time caregiver to provide for Cullan and the rest of the family.

Life Goes On: Cullan and the Antigonish Angels

Despite his injuries, Cullan enjoys many of the same activities that most seven-year-olds would, spending his days playing on a custom swing in his backyard and playing baseball with his father and the local baseball team in their hometown, the Antigonish Angels.

His mother Monique, father Wade and little brother Killian do what they can to allow him to enjoy a reasonable quality of life in a true testament of family love that inspires us all.

“Once I tell him he’s going [to practice] he’s just “oohing” and “awing” pretty much the entire way,” says Wade. “He’s non-verbal, but he makes noises, and once we start making the turn towards the field he knows were getting closer, and he gets more excited. When he’s happy you know it, he starts laughing and the arms start going, so it’s pretty neat to see.”

Wade says that because of Cullan’s involvement with the local Challenger Baseball Canada league, his social and development skills have improved drastically. The team has been nothing but supportive for Cullan, and he has even made friends during his time on the team. One friend, six-year-old Will, is also confined to a wheelchair like Cullan.

“We’ll park them beside each other, and you’ll see Cullan reaching over and trying to touch him. He knows Will is there and he knows ‘that’s Will,’ and he’s happy that he’s there,” Wade says. “Cullan is happy. He’s a happy child who loves being around sports. He’s a joy to be around.”

McKiggan Hebert is proud to have represented Cullan in this important case.

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