Q&A with Scott and Kathy Broussard: Feeling called to demand better doctor oversight

Published on
March 5, 2010

Scott Broussard is a battalion chief with the Costa Mesa Fire Department. He's used to knocking down doors when there is an emergency and trying to stay steady in the midst of chaos. Kathy Broussard is a pediatric intensive care nurse who has seen children die and children saved from the brink of death. She is now focused on raising her two children.

More than 10 years ago, they watched as an ob-gyn repeatedly yanked and twisted their daughter's head trying to pull her out of the birth canal with forceps. Jillian Broussard had to be rushed to emergency surgery where a pediatric neurosurgeon attempted to save her life. She died a week later. The autopsy report said that her head had been separated from her spinal column. The physician, Dr. Andrew Rutland, had been investigated twice by the Medical Board of California before – including a case where a child had been harmed by a botched delivery – but he had no public disciplinary record. He had been forced to take some remedial obstetrics classes, but Scott and Kathy Broussard would have had no way of knowing that.

Their persistence in complaining to the medical board and their videotape of the birth led to Rutland losing his license in 2002. I first spoke with the Broussards in 2001 for a series in The Orange County Register that documented patient deaths and allegations of negligence against Rutland. The Broussards' testimony in front of a legislative panel helped persuade lawmakers in California that the board needed to be fixed. A series of reforms were put in place but one key policy did not change: the ability for a doctor to petition for restoration of his license.

As a result, Rutland was back in business in 2007, and the board appointed a doctor to monitor him who also had been found negligent in the deaths of patients and who had a very similar disciplinary history. Now Rutland is about to go before the medical board on new charges that he was negligent in the death of a woman he attempted to give an abortion.

This is the first part of my interview with them. The second part will appear next week. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Q: What were your first impressions of Dr. Rutland?

Kathy: When I first started seeing Dr. Rutland I liked him. He took his time and seemed very thorough. I never had any big gynecological health issues and my pregnancy was very healthy and easy. It wasn't until my delivery had complications that I saw a whole other side to him. He just did not know how to handle an emergency. Things went from bad to worse.

Q: Have either of you ever delivered a baby?

Scott: I was a medic for about 15 years, and, yes, I delivered babies, usually because things were too far along by the time we were called and the delivery just couldn't wait until we got to the hospital.

Q: How did those deliveries go?

Scott: Most went well, but some didn't go so well. There was nothing that resulted in the death of a baby, but I've seen some mothers who were having a really hard time. I also have seen children die, unfortunately: SIDS deaths, drownings in pools. And I can understand how it is when you are a medical doctor and you feel slightly disconnected from the situation. This is not your baby. It is a baby but not your baby. You are here to follow your training and do your job as best you can.

Q: Both of you have worked in crisis situations in medicine. From that perspective do you have a respect for what an ob-gyn must go through when they are having trouble in a delivery?

Scott: I do have respect for how difficult the job can be. I also knew in that room that day 10 years ago that we were no longer taking a reasonable course in Jillian's delivery. I knew that before Dr. Rutland did, and I communicated that with him. But he ignored me. I said, "We know what's happening to the baby and to Kathy when she rotates and how much you've tried to get Jillian out and how much you've pulled. That plan is not working anymore. Now we need to shift gears." And the part that was hard for me to understand was that he couldn't get it into his head that there needed to be a new direction. The direction was a C-section. But he was so locked into the idea that if he just kept pulling everything would work out. Well, it didn't.

Q: And yet he was being videotaped, which has always seemed strange to me. He had been sued before that, had had problems with deliveries. Here he is being videotaped and the parents are asking for a C-section and he refuses. Obviously at the time you wouldn't have seen it that way, but does it seem odd to you now?

Scott: He didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He thought he had chosen the right course and did not need to deviate. Looking back, I could see this tendency from our first meeting. I told him that I knew he had privileges at two hospitals and that I would prefer it if we had the delivery at the hospital that was closer to our home. It was easily a 30-minute drive from our house to Martin Luther Hospital in Anaheim, and it would have been about five minutes to the other hospital. But he wanted to deliver at Martin Luther. I said, "If we are in an emergency situation, the kind I have seen professionally, I don't want to take any chances." He just blew me off. He didn't want any new information. And when he found himself in a difficult situation, he was unable to think clearly. He told me that he wouldn't change a thing about what he did in that delivery room, which, to his way of thinking, must have made sense.

Q: This was after Jillian had died?

Scott: That was after she already died. And when he said that to me, I was shocked. I said, "You know the outcome and yet you think there is nothing you would have changed?" He said, "I think she had a stroke, Scott." I said, "But you were there with me and with my dad who's a surgeon and we read the MRI. We all saw that the spinal column had been removed from the brain stem. Are you saying it was just a stroke that caused that?" He was just adamant that nothing he had done was wrong.

Kathy: Scott and I knew that what Dr. Rutland had told us about a stroke was wrong. We had that little bit of extra knowledge because we had both worked in the medical field, and we had the resources to get her out of Martin Luther to and into CHOC [Children's Hospital of Orange County] and in the care of a very good neurosurgeon, Dr. Muhonen.

Q: But can't you see how a doctor in a more litigious discipline like obstetrics might not want to say he made a mistake?

Kathy: I can understand how a doctor would not want to admit to a mistake in a litigious area of medicine such as obstetrics, but in Dr. Rutland's case, instead of saying nothing he kept saying that Jillie had a stroke even after the evidence had been given to him by Dr. Muhonen. Having had worked in the medical field I have seen mistakes happen and I have seen physicians devastated emotionally by them. This was not Dr. Rutland. He became stone cold. I don't even recall seeing him after my delivery. The day we had Jillie transferred to CHOC by ambulance we could not even follow her because we were waiting and waiting for Dr. Rutland to come and write discharge orders. I finally threatened to leave, and only then did he show up. We never got a call to follow-up on Jillie's status or my progress while we were in the NICU. Even before Dr. Muhonen had given him Jillie's diagnosis, there were no calls. The day we came home from CHOC, the very same day we had our beautiful baby girl die in our arms, his office nurse called to see how the baby and I were doing. He hadn't even told his own nurses in his office. He obviously had something to hide.

Q: Dr. Rutland is black. Dr. Dotson, his practice monitor, is black. Both of them have been sued repeatedly and been the subject of complaints and medical board investigations. The attorney for Dr. Rutland, Peter Osinoff, has said that the reason Dr. Rutland is the subject of repeated lawsuits, complaints and stories in the media is because he is black. Might there be a grain of truth in that? We may have a black president, but no one could say that our society has eliminated racism.

Kathy: The fact that Mr. Osinoff states that the reason Dr Rutland is subjected to repeated lawsuits is because he is black is a joke to me. Obviously, I and his other patients did not view this as an issue or we would not have seen him in the first place. Blue, purple or green his record speaks for itself.

Q: Dr. Rutland settled a lawsuit with your family over the death of Jillian. In some ways, hasn't he already paid his dues? What else is he supposed to do at this point?

Kathy: We never wanted to sue, but that seemed like our only other alternative since there was nothing happening with the medical board. We waited almost the whole year until we filed suit.  We stupidly thought that if we sued him for at least $250,000 his medical malpractice insurance carrier would drop him and he then would not be able to practice. We didn't care about the money. If we did, we would not have settled. The settlement we did receive we put in a college fund for our children, Garrett and Lauren, with a note from their sister. If we really wanted a lot of money, we would have taken him to court. After all, we had a videotape of the delivery. We just wanted him stopped. We didn't want any other baby or family to go through what we did. Then, thankfully, you came along. We strongly feel that if it was not for you and your excellent reporting Dr. Rutland's license would not have been revoked the first time, not to mention the reformation and changes made to the medical board. That was the best day in 2002 when his license was revoked. What peace of mind we had for the next five years. Yes, we still had to live with our grief, but we knew no one else would be injured or die. Now, of course, the very thing that we started fighting for ten years ago is the very same thing we are fighting for today, the revocation of Dr. Rutland's license.

Scott: For us, this is the memory of our daughter. We're not searching this stuff out. We didn't try to find out what was going on with Dr. Rutland. We didn't even know where he was practicing or what he was doing until we were contacted by a reporter. And, upon being contacted, we thought, "Do we respond or do we shrink back?" We don't shrink. And then we were invited to go the hearing in San Diego. So I took the day off and went to the hearing. God put us back into this thing to be a reasonable voice for protecting patients.

Next week: How the Broussards think the medical board should be overhauled