A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

A few days later at the hospital, Alice says, a social worker told them that if they didn’t confess to causing Liliana’s injuries, they might never get her back. “Pretty soon, we’ll put Liliana up for adoption.”

Giving in to the will of the bureaucracies aligned against them might have been the easiest way out. Alice and Miguel were penniless. Their church was feeding them and paying their rent. A long list of attorneys had refused to help them with a case against the state. They did not give in.

Fortunately, about that time they were referred to Dorothy Isaacs, a partner at Surovell Markle Isaacs & Levy. She agreed to take their case.

No Bleeding Heart
After more than a decade in the law, a lot of it in divorce court, Isaacs is no bleeding heart. She listened to Alice and Miguel, then read their documents and checked their backgrounds. And she grew enraged. “I believe there are a few things I was put on the planet to do,” Isaacs says. “I came to feel getting Liliana back and clearing Miguel’s name were on the list.”

Isaacs first helped get Liliana moved to a different foster home. Then, in July of 2001, ten months after the OI diagnosis and 17 months after she had first been taken from them, Liliana came home. By spring of 2002, the
Velasquezes had formal, legal custody.

Late in the summer of 2004, the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the finding of abuse against Miguel, essentially declaring that the Department of Social Services had made an error. It was the first such ruling on an abuse case in the history of the state.

A Grateful Father
It took two more months to get Miguel’s name off the state’s central registry of abusers. “I owe Dorothy Isaacs everything,” Miguel says softly. “She gave me back my baby. Then she gave me back my name.”

Finally, Isaacs filed suit in federal district court against the government, accusing the doctors who had treated Liliana of medical negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.

On October 11, 2005, Isaacs and her co-counsel began laying out the details of how the family had been shattered. After reviewing a thousand pages of records, experts in both child abuse and OI concluded the military doctors “breached the standards of care” by too quickly assuming Liliana had been abused by her father, by not doing a differential diagnosis, by not testing her, and then by insisting she had been abused even after the OI diagnosis was made.

Even an expert witness hired by the military testified that the test used to determine Liliana’s OI was reliable.

A settlement was reached, but there was no assignment of wrongdoing. The Velasquezes were, however, awarded $950,000. About half went for legal fees and expenses. A trust fund of $150,000 was set aside for Liliana. As far as is publicly known, no one at the hospitals or in social services was fired or reprimanded. The foster-care giver was not found negligent.

Making a New Life
After the Velasquezes paid off their spiraling bills, they used the remaining money to buy a house for their family, which now also includes Tahlia, 5, and Korbin, 2. Tahlia has OI; her brother does not. Liliana, now 7, still has bad dreams but does not show overt problems arising from her terrible ordeal. She is not in therapy. She’s at home with her parents, who are trying to give her a normal life.

After the papers had been signed, Judge Richard D. Bennett read a statement into the record outlining the “living nightmare” the Velasquezes had endured. He encouraged Miguel to become a citizen. Then the judge said something rarely heard in a courtroom, “I apologize on behalf of the United States government,” and he came down off the bench and shook their hands.

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