Cynthia Garcia rushed to her daughter’s school after receiving a troubling voice mail from a staff member.
Her 10-year-old daughter, who is disabled and uses a feeding tube, was vomiting white chunks and was turning purple, the voice mail said.
When Garcia got to her daughter, she noticed a strong smell of bleach.
The girl, who has CEDNIK syndrome, a genetic developmental disability that has kept her in a wheelchair, was fed bleach through her gastrostomy tube inserted through her abdomen, according to a lawsuit that Garcia filed last week in California. Because of the incident, the girl suffered a lung infection and inflammation or swelling in the lining of her stomach.
The incident happened in mid-September, when the fifth-grader was attending Irwin O. Addicott Elementary School in Fresno in California’s Central Valley. The school, which is under the Fresno Unified School District, is for special-needs students.
Garcia’s attorney, Bruce Fagel, said the school staff responsible for caring for the girl was looking after other students that day. It’s unclear how exactly the incident happened, but the complaint says the school was negligent in storing feeding and cleaning supplies to the point that they were switched.
“There are only two options, intentionally or unintentionally. I doubt they’re going to say they did it intentionally,” Fagel said. “A mistake under those circumstances is negligence when the person doing it is charged with responsibility of knowing what they’re doing.”
A spokeswoman for the school district said officials have not seen the complaint and cannot comment on pending litigation.
The girl, according to the complaint, was aware that she’d been fed poison but was unable to communicate it. After she got sick, school employees neither called 911 nor brought her to a hospital. They also are accused of not immediately telling Garcia why her daughter started vomiting.
Garcia “was given no knowledge of the actual peril or danger her daughter was in,” according to the complaint, which says the school’s conduct was “so outrageous and extreme as to exceed all bounds of decency in a civilized community.”
It wasn’t until Garcia said she’s taking her daughter to the hospital that the school principal told her the girl may have been administered bleach through her feeding tube, the complaint says.
School officials did not say who, specifically, was responsible, or how much bleach had gotten into the girl’s body.
When the girl vomited, the substance also damaged her trachea and esophagus. Fagel said much of the damage will ultimately heal, but the girl is left with long-term injuries to her lung.
Shortly after the incident, Fagel filed a claim with the school district to avoid a lawsuit. But the district denied the claim, an “unusual” decision, Fagel said, given that the facts “are so outrageous and relatively clear.”
The school district has a month from when it receives the complaint to file a response in court.