A malpractice lawsuit alleges a doctor with University of Minnesota Physicians allegedly misused a laser to treat a 6-year-old girl’s birthmark, causing open wounds on her face that left her permanently scarred.
According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court, Dr. Kristen P. Hook was inexperienced in using the laser and provided inadequate follow-up care when the girl’s injuries came to light. The injuries occurred in 2017.
“We’re bringing this lawsuit in large part because we do not want to see another child or family suffer the way my daughter and family has,” the girl’s mother, Kasey Bernu, said in a written statement. “We want accountability.”
The lawsuit names Hook and University of Minnesota Physicians as defendants.
University of Minnesota Physicians said it does not comment on pending litigation or issues involving patient privacy.
The University of Minnesota Physicians website describes itself as a multidisciplinary group practice for faculty at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The group owns and operates specialty and family clinics.
Hook, who specializes in dermatology, could not be reached for comment, but on Friday, attorney Ryan Ellis, released the following statement on behalf of her and U Physicians:
“We sympathize with this patient and her family. Dr. Hook and University of Minnesota Physicians fully stand-by and support the medical care and treatment provided to this patient and plan to defend this case. Due to patient privacy and pending litigation we are unable to provide further comment.”
“It’s an extremely serious case,” said attorney Jeff Storms, who is representing Bernu in the lawsuit. “Facial injuries are among the most devastating injuries one can sustain, particularly a child.”
The injuries occurred at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, now known as M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center.
Storms said the girl’s recovery was “extremely painful” and that she will require more treatments for several scars on the left side of her face.
The lawsuit included graphic photos of the injuries, showing several circle-shaped, deep, open wounds stretching in a curve from near the girl’s nose to near her ear. She was also injured below her lip.
“No one can look at these pictures,” Storms said, “and, I believe, reasonably reach the conclusion that this young child received appropriate medical care.”
According to the suit: The girl was born with a “port-wine stain,” a reddish birthmark, on the left side of her face.
Hook began treating the girl’s birthmark months after her birth in 2011. Hook used a pulsed dye laser, which is different from the laser used in the 2017 treatment.
Hook provided more than 25 treatments to the girl using the pulsed dye laser before recommending treatment with an Nd:YAG laser.
The suit said such lasers are “extremely powerful and can present significant danger” when misused.
“Treating a port wine stain with an [Nd:YAG] laser is a complicated surgery,” the suit said. The suit also alleged that Hook had never used this particular laser on a minor patient before using it on the girl, nor had she ever used it to treat a port-wine stain on any patient before using the laser on the girl.
The suit alleged that Hook did not divulge her inexperience with the laser to Bernu and its increased risks compared with the pulsed dye laser. Bernu would not have consented to the procedure had she known the information, the suit said.
Hook performed two test spots with the laser on the girl in October 2017 and completed a full treatment Dec. 13, according to the suit.
“Dr. Hook at times doubled and more than doubled the energy used … versus the energy Dr. Hook employed during the October 25, 2017 testing procedure, in addition to significantly increasing the number of pulses employed and the total area treated,” the suit said.
Hook used five pulses each in two different sites on the girl’s face in October, and a total of 63 pulses over an area of 44 square centimeters in December, the suit says.
The girl developed injuries soon after the December treatment, the suit said, and Hook “endorsed improper wound care” over the phone instead of referring her for proper care.
Hook saw the girl for a follow-up visit on Jan. 3, 2018.
The lawsuit is seeking damages in excess of $50,000, a common placeholder amount in civil suits, for emotional distress, pain, suffering and a loss of future earnings, among other damages.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib