The federal government has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to a couple whose infant daughter was taken away from them after doctors at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda ignored the mother's pleas to test the girl for a genetic condition that causes brittle bones and instead accused the father of breaking the girl's ribs.
The father, Miguel Velasquez, was charged with child abuse.
Liliana Velasquez was tested for osteogenesis imperfecta -- also known as "brittle bone disease" -- only after an Alexandria Circuit Court judge ordered the examination, according to a federal civil lawsuit filed by the girl's parents. The test showed that the girl suffered from the condition. The charge against her father was dropped.
"I feel much better now that my name is cleared," Velasquez, 34, said yesterday. "I love my babies; they're my life. For something like this to happen, my heart was broken for a few years."
On Oct. 14, civil attorneys in the Maryland U.S. attorney's office agreed to settle the lawsuit filed by Velasquez and his wife, Alice. The deal was reached three days after the civil trial began in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
As he announced the settlement, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett apologized to the Velasquez family on behalf of the U.S. government, according to Alice Velasquez and one of her attorneys, Dorothy M. Isaacs. Bennett said the outcome was a triumph for the legal system, Isaacs said.
The medical center did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said it would have no comment because the settlement is not final until it has been reviewed by an attorney representing Liliana.
The nightmare began for the family on Feb. 3, 2000, when Alice and Miguel Velasquez took Liliana, who was 4 months old, to the medical center for a routine checkup. Alice Velasquez was an Army medical lab technician, and the family lived in Alexandria at the time.
Doctors found a bump on the left side of Liliana's rib cage, and further examination revealed that the girl had eight broken ribs and a possible fibula fracture, according to the lawsuit.
Alice Velasquez said she told doctors at the medical center that brittle bone disease runs in her family. She said she pleaded with doctors to test Liliana for the condition, but they did not.
Paul Reed, Liliana's attending physician at the medical center, immediately notified Child Protective Services in Alexandria; officials there conducted an investigation with Alexandria police, determining that Miguel Velasquez had caused the girl's injuries. Reed could not be reached yesterday.
Miguel Velasquez was charged with felony child abuse, and Liliana was put in a foster home. As part of the criminal case against her father, an Alexandria Circuit Court judge ordered the September 2001 test, which revealed that Liliana suffered from the bone disorder, according to the lawsuit.
After 18 months in the foster care system, Liliana was returned to her parents, and the criminal charge against Miguel Velasquez was dropped.
Liliana is now 6 and in first grade. She has two siblings, Tahlia, 4, and Korbin, 1. Tahlia also has the bone disorder, Alice Velasquez said. The girls cannot play sports and can run only on grass, she said. The settlement calls for Miguel and Alice Velasquez to each receive $400,000 and for $150,00 to be set aside for Liliana.
The family lives near Martinsburg, W.Va. Miguel Velasquez works as a ramp agent for an airline at Dulles International Airport. Alice Velasquez, 26, worked as an airport police officer at Dulles for the past two years but said she resigned her job this week.
The money from the settlement will allow her to stay home and take care of her kids, she said.