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Felix Hofmann, shown here in 2005 at 4 months old, was discovered to have learning disabilities traced back to staff negligence at the Eschenbach Hospital in Germany. Felix's father, Markus Hofmann, is hoping to spread word about the case to any of the approximately 4,000 American families whose children were born at Eschenbach.
Felix Hofmann, shown here in 2005 at 4 months old, was discovered to have learning disabilities traced back to staff negligence at the Eschenbach Hospital in Germany. Felix's father, Markus Hofmann, is hoping to spread word about the case to any of the approximately 4,000 American families whose children were born at Eschenbach. (Markus Hofmann/Courtesy to Stars)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A recent court victory is leading a German family to look for the parents of American children born at Eschenbach Hospital who might also be victims of dangerous practices by staff and structural negligence between 1987 and 2004.

Two doctors were convicted of gross negligence in medical treatment and a midwife was convicted of assault and illegal use of painkillers in the March 25 verdict. The hospital was found guilty of gross organizational errors.

As an indication of just how many U.S. births there were, the newspaper Der Neue Tag reported that 40 percent of the 10,000 children born between 1968 and 2004 at Eschenbach Hospital were American. The hospital served soldiers and families stationed at Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels and Vilseck as well as surrounding facilities.

The decision, said Markus Hofmann, a Grafenwöhr banker and father of a disabled child, will make it much easier for parents whose children also developed problems to seek compensation.

The Hofmanns were in a legal battle for more than six years.

“The long way we went, these parents would not have to go, since the structural failure of the hospital has now been proven by the court,” he said.

Hofmann wants to alert other families who may also have been affected. German law requires that lawsuits for medical malpractice be filed within 10 years of the incident, so time could be running out for some American families, he said.

Hofmann said his son, Felix, was born with learning disabilities in September 2004 after a midwife secretly gave his wife Dolantin during labor. The drug is a tightly controlled and powerful painkiller that is supposed to be administered by a trained anesthetist after the patient has been informed about its risks.

“Felix will be handicapped for life,” Hofmann said. “He will never go to a normal school. He has problems with moving and coordination, and he’s slow to learn things. He can’t speak like other children.”

In December 2007, an investigation revealed that the midwife illegally obtained the Dolantin and gave it to his wife without telling her, Hofmann said. In a statement to police, the midwife said she routinely gave the drug to mothers. She was later fired when allegations of misconduct surfaced.

The lower court in Weiden ruled in August that the doctors and the midwife have to pay a $360,000 fine and cover all costs related to Felix’s handicap, which will amount to millions of dollars.

The Hofmanns appealed, believing that there was also general negligence by the hospital.

In the subsequent trial, it came to light that a pulse oximeter, used to monitor oxygen levels in Felix’s blood, was not used properly by a nurse. An expert appointed by the court said the data were supposed to be checked and documented every 30 minutes. The hospital could not provide any documentation. The under-supply of oxygen was not recognized until the next day, when the infant’s skin turned blue and he began to spasm.

In the trial, which wrapped up March 25, the court ruled that the hospital failed to train the nurses properly on the equipment.

When the Hofmanns’ story appeared in a local newspaper in 2008, another family whose child was born at Eschenbach Hospital and has learning disabilities contacted them, Hofmann said.

The U.S. Army recently closed its last hospital in Bavaria, at Würzburg. For families not living near remaining American hospitals, it has promoted local facilities as being as good as, if not better than, U.S. hospitals.

Lt. Col. Telita Crosland, director of Grafenwöhr’s health clinic, said she’d heard rumors about problems at Eschenbach Hospital, but that no German officials had contacted the Army over the issue.

All expectant American mothers at Grafenwöhr are now sent to Klinikum Weiden, she said.

Klinikum Nordoberpfalz spokeswoman Rita Stadler said any financial settlement with Felix’s family will depend on the case presented by prosecutors. The hospital has not informed the Army about the case because there are no concerns that more children might be affected, she said.

But Hofmann wants any Americans who had children born at Eschenbach with learning disabilities to come forward.

“There could be more children with problems,” said Hofmann’s wife, who did not wish to give her name. “Parents might not know why these children have these problems.”

robsons@estripes.osd.mil kloecknerm@estripes.osd.mil

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