Melissa Crawford

In 2004, Melissa Crawford was twenty years old. She was living in Smiths Falls, a town in Ontario, in central Canada. She had been severely handicapped from the time she was born. She couldn’t speak or walk—or do anything else for herself. She had had to be looked after since her birth. Apart from her handicap she was healthy and was expected to live for a long time.

Before she was born, inside her mother’s uterus, Melissa was a healthy baby. However, she was deprived of oxygen for fifteen minutes at the time of her birth, and, as a result, her brain was damaged. That was the cause of her handicap.

Melissa was deprived of oxygen because the doctors who were delivering her could not extricate her from her mother’s birth canal. They were unable to extricate her because she was much larger than a normal baby. Average birth weight is just over three kilograms, but Melissa weighed approximately five kilograms. Melissa’s shoulders were too big to pass naturally through her mother’s birth canal. She got stuck there and couldn’t breathe. The doctors had to use forceps to pull her through. But even with the help of this tool, they had a very difficult job.

When the doctors finally succeeded in removing Melissa from the birth canal, she had become blue and seemed to be dead. They were able to hear a faint heartbeat however, and they managed to keep Melissa alive.

Melissa was an abnormally large baby because her mother was diabetic. Diabetes is a chronic disease, caused by the body’s inability to remove sugar from the blood. It is very common. About one person in twenty is a diabetic. Diabetics have abnormally high amounts of sugar in their blood, and, as a result, they often become blind or suffer from kidney failure.

Melissa’s mother, Jeanette Crawford, had a special kind of diabetes called gestational diabetes. Women who suffer from gestational diabetes become diabetic while they are pregnant. They often have no diabetic symptoms and, as a result, their disease may not be detected. Their diabetes almost always disappears as soon as they have their baby. But even if a mother is not seriously affected, her baby often is.

The baby may be affected because the mother shares her blood with her baby. The baby gets more sugar than it needs, and this causes it to grow too quickly. When the time comes for it to be born, it may be too big to get through its mother’s birth canal.

When Melisssa’s parents found out what had happened to Melissa, and found out that this had happened because her mother had diabetes, they felt that the doctors were responsible for the catastrophe. The doctors who delivered Melissa had been looking after her mother while she was pregnant. Jeanette Crawford and her husband felt that if the doctors had done their job properly, they would have had a normal, healthy daughter.

They felt that if the doctors had detected Jeanette’s diabetes, then they could have induced Melisssa’s birth at an earlier time, before Melissa had grown so big. They also felt that the doctors should have detected the diabetes. Jeanette was already forty when she became pregnant, and she was already overweight. She quickly gained more weight during her pregnancy. She had high blood pressure. In addition to all that, Jeanette’s own mother was severely diabetic.

Melisssa’s parents felt that any competent doctor would know that all these things are indications of diabetes. They felt that because Jeanette’s doctors had not tested her for diabetes, they had been negligent. They decided to take the doctors to court and sue them.

The case went on for a long time, but eventually, a judge decided that Melissa’s parents were right. The doctors had been negligent. The doctors’ insurance company was ordered to pay Melissa eight million Canadian dollars. This money will be used to pay for Melissa’s care. Her parents also received $1-million in compensation for the sacrifices they have had to make. And $1-million was awarded to the government of Ontario to cover the money it had spent on Melissa’s care. This was the largest award for personal injury in the history of Canada.

Although Melissa is handicapped, she does have the ability to enjoy her life. She can recognize people’s faces and she has a happy, natural smile. She cannot really understand language, but she enjoys watching television and she likes people to read her stories. Now that Melissa has money, her parents know that, even when they are dead, Melissa will be well looked after in her own home, and that she will continue to be able to enjoy her life as much as possible.

- information from: TheGlobe and Mail, 04.01.11 (Kirk Makin); The Lawyers Weekly, 03.02.07 (Cristin Schmitz); OTLA Update, March/April, 2003