An Operation That Never Came

A chronology of NickiColma Spriggs' eight years in the D.C. child protection system reveals missed opportunities to treat the spinal condition of the 15-year-old girl, who entered the D.C. child protection system in 1990 after a Superior Court judge ruled that she was being neglected by her mother. On Jan. 30, 1992, Nicki arrived at the Harbor Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in Lewes, Del. Eight months later, Nicki was seen by Dr. Kirk Dabney, who measured the curvature of her spine at 33 degrees. He scheduled an appointment for six months later, but he did not see Nicki for another six years. It was not until the last year of her life that efforts were made to get her into surgery:

Feb. 5, 1998 A D.C. judge learns that Nicki is not fitting into her wheelchair because of her curved spine. The judge questions why surgery has not taken place.
Feb. 17, 1998 The judge orders the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency to visit Harbor Healthcare.
March 2, 1998 An agency investigator discovers Dabney hasn't examined Nicki's spine since 1992. The surgeon sees Nicki that afternoon and finds the curvature of her spine now measures 90 degrees, a 57-degree deterioration.
March 13, 1998 Dabney writes to the District to say he wants to schedule surgery.
April 17, 1998 The judge says Nicki is in a "desperate, delicate condition." Nicki is examined by three orthopedic surgeons.
July 1, 1998 A District social worker calls Dabney's office and learns that he is waiting for the D.C. agency to sign approval forms for the surgery. The social worker says she asks Dabney's office to fax her the forms.
July 7, 1998 The social worker tells the judge that two doctors believe Nicki's "life would be prolonged with the surgery." The worker says she has not yet received the forms from Dabneyıs office.
Aug. 10, 1998 Dabney reexamines Nicki's spine and finds the curvature has worsened to 100 degrees.
Sept. 18, 1998 Saying that the social worker is not returning his messages, Dabney tells the agency he is "extremely concerned" that Nicki's surgery is not yet scheduled; he says delays might result in the District being considered "negligent."
Nov. 26, 1998 At age 15, Nicki is found dead in her wheelchair, six days before her scheduled surgery on Dec. 2.

SOURCE: D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Child Fatality Review Committee.

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