Former dentist gets probation after procedure left child brain damaged

When she saw her daughter for the first time after a 2016 dental procedure, Courissa Clark said she couldn’t understand why her 4-year-old, Nevaeh Hall, was unresponsive.

Earlier that day, Nevaeh had seizures while receiving dental work, according to court documents. Instead of seeking emergency medical services, the dentist, Bethaniel Jefferson, gave the child more sedatives to try to calm her down, documents allege.

Nevaeh received medical assistance about five hours later, and the next day, doctors found she had suffered a brain injury and a movement disorder from lack of oxygen, according to court documents. Clark said she was told Nevaeh would likely never see, speak or walk again.

Clark has spent the past seven years seeking justice for her child’s life-altering injuries. Jefferson, 46, lost her medical license later in 2016 and in 2017 was charged with injuring a child by omission, causing serious bodily injury.

Last week, a district court judge in Harris County, Tex., sentenced Jefferson to five years of probation after a jury convicted her of the charges. She faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Clark told The Washington Post that the five-year probation sentence was a “slap in the face.”

“It is really unfair,” said Clark, 31. “We waited for justice for this long, and for this to be what was decided in the end is really disappointing.”

John Kovach, Jefferson’s attorney, said that his client did not knowingly harm Nevaeh, didn’t recognize her health was in danger, and still feels badly about the child’s condition. He said Jefferson will serve 250 community service hours and pay Nevaeh’s family more than $10,000 in restitution.

“She should have done better,” Kovach said of Jefferson. “She should have called 911 sooner. But we don’t believe that it was reckless, nor do we believe that she did this knowingly or with intent to harm this little child.”

A jury agreed with Kovach’s argument last week, declaring that Jefferson was guilty of her charge and recommending that she serve a decade of probation. She was sentenced Thursday.

Clark said that Nevaeh was born healthy and was outgoing and sharp before the incident. She met a new friend everywhere she went, enjoyed dancing to hip-hop music and remembered driving directions around Houston better than her mom, Clark said.

As a 3-year-old, Nevaeh dressed up as a doctor for Halloween and refused to take off the costume for a few days afterward. Nevaeh often pretended to be a doctor, checking her family members for fictitious ailments and injuries. Clark said Nevaeh wanted to work in the medical field when she grew up.

On Jan. 7, 2016, Nevaeh visited a Houston dentist for extractions, pulpotomies and stainless steel crowns, according to the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners, which reviewed Jefferson’s treatment. At 8:38 a.m., Jefferson used Meperidine and Atarax to sedate Nevaeh, the dental examiners’ documents say.

Nevaeh began screaming and shaking afterward, prompting Jefferson to give her Halcion — a medication not used to treat seizures and not recommended for children — around 11:35 a.m., the documents allege. Dental staff told Clark, who was in the waiting room, about Nevaeh’s shaking, but she was assured her daughter would settle down, Clark said.

Nevaeh’s blood oxygen and body temperature dropped to dangerous levels, and she suffered two more seizures, according to the dental examiners’ review. Instead of contacting emergency services, Jefferson called her pastor multiple times, as well as a pharmacy to inquire about the drugs, the documents allege.

Jefferson called 911 around 4:30 p.m., the documents state. In the waiting room, Clark said she was shocked when paramedics rushed past her and into Nevaeh’s examination room.

Nevaeh was taken to the emergency room but suffered two more seizures during the trip, the documents say. The next morning, a physician diagnosed Nevaeh with a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, which impairs the victim’s consciousness, the medical review alleges.

Nevaeh now uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube, requiring almost 24-hour care, Clark said.

“Everything was taken from her that day,” Clark said.

In November 2016, the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners revoked Jefferson’s medical license and prevented her from practicing in the state. Jefferson “failed to meet the minimum standard of care, engaged in dishonorable conduct, and was negligent,” the board ruled.

In July 2017, a Harris County grand jury indicted Jefferson on a charge of intentionally and knowingly injuring a child by omission causing serious bodily injury, according to court records. A judge dismissed the charge after Jefferson pleaded not guilty and argued she didn’t intend harm or know she was causing harm, Kovach said. Prosecutors charged Jefferson this June with committing a reckless injury to a child by omission, causing serious bodily injury, which she was sentenced for, court records show.

Nevaeh, who’s now 11, expresses herself by crying since she can’t speak, Clark said. Clark said she has taken out thousands of dollars in loans and works two jobs — at a post office and at Popeyes — to pay for Nevaeh’s medical expenses.

Clark said when she sees other children running around and talking, she wonders what could’ve been for Nevaeh and thinks about the traditional milestones she’ll miss: playful birthdays, prom dances and wedding processionals. She said she thought a strict sentence might help her move past her frustration and “close this chapter.”

“But that didn’t happen,” Clark said.

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