Nirmal Trehan, a 28-year-old Virginia Beach resident, entered Norfolk's De Paul Hospital in the predawn hours of Sept. 22, 1974, to give birth to her first child.

It was 24 hours before Dr. James Wolcott Jr., a member of one of Norfolk's most respected families and one of its best known obstetricians, delivered her daughter, Shirin.

What happened during that interval is still disputed, the outcome is not. Shirin was born with severe brain damage. She will never walk or talk, and must be institutionalized for life.

Late last week, Nirmal and her Pakistani born husband, Abtur Trehan, a professor of engineering at Hampton Institute in Hampton, agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $680,000 from the Catholic hospital and the 59-year-old physician.

Lawyers for Wolcott and the hospital refused to comment on the settlement, which was disclosed by Aaron M. Levine, a Washington attorney who represented the parents. The doctor's lawyer, Allen S. Reynolds of Norfolk, said "As far as I'm concerned the less said about it the better."

Reynolds said his client "surely doesn't agree with anything" in a brief Levine filed with the Norfolk court outlining the casee Reynolds refused to comment further, except to say the settlement did not place liability for the injury on either Wolcott or the hospital.

According to papers filed by Levine, Wolcott left the woman attended by nurses and went to sleep during a critical period of her labor. Levine said the doctor left orders with the nurses, at 1:35 a.m., to administer a preanesthetic medication, but it was after 5 a.m. when he arrived in the delivery room.

When the baby was delivered at 5:36 a.m., her brain and the umbilical cord "were compressed to such an extent that she was deprived of oxygen necessary to support her brain cells," Levine's brief contends. The lack of oxygen caused the damage to the child's brain, Levine argued.

"What (it) comes down to, in the final analysis, amounts to an unattended labor," Levine said. "Whether Dr. Wolcott could have avoided the injury -- by use of forceps, oxygen, cesarean section, electronic fetal monitoring or other available modalities -- we will never know," he said in the court papers.

The Norfolk medical community has defended Wolcott, who received his education at the University of Virginia and has practiced obstetrics in the Norfolk area since 1954.

"His professional and personal reputation are of the highest order , and he is a real gentleman," said Linda Coppedge, spokeswomen for the Norfolk Academy of Medicine, local arm of the American Medical Association.

Levine remains critical of the doctor's performance.

"Women have been having children for million of years without obstetricians, and the race is still here to tell of it," he said. "An OB (obstetrician) is like a fireman. What good is he if he's not going to be there when something goes wrong?"