BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Sherry Robinson just wants closure.
More than a year ago, Robinson’s 7-year-old daughter, Kamiya “Cookie” Dufermeau, died as a result of complications from a surgery she’d undergone at Children’s of Alabama to remove her appendix. Since then, Robinson has looked for answers anywhere she can. And though she hasn’t found many, each new detail that emerges about her daughter’s untimely death deepens a wound that hasn’t yet had the time or space to heal.
In recent days, the wound has deepened once again.
In a newly updated lawsuit, Sherry Robinson claims that Colin Martin, the surgeon who removed Kamiya’s appendix, engaged in witness tampering through his involvement in her daughter’s autopsy process. Martin, the lawsuit claims, contacted the coroner performing the autopsy, visited their office in person, and examined the late 7-year-old’s bowel and the stump of her appendix – all before a final autopsy report had been issued. The Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner’s Office refused to comment on the new allegations, citing the pending litigation, but in a June interview, Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates denied Martin had been allowed to view the child’s body. Martin has not responded to requests for comment as of publication.
A tragedy unfolds
In mid-April 2021, Kamiya became sick, her mother’s lawsuit says. She had a fever, was nauseous, and had stomach pain. Her family brought Kamiya to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham on April 18. After being assessed, she was given medication for appendicitis as part of a “nonsurgical conservative therapy.” She was discharged on April 19.
Her mother’s suit says that on April 26, Kamiya’s condition worsened. Her parents called Children’s and told them that Kamiya was “curled up in a ball” from pain. Staff advised her parents to bring Kamiya back to the emergency department, which they did.
On April 27, Dr. Colin Martin performed a laparoscopic appendectomy on Kamiya, according to the lawsuit. Her family’s lawyer, Dr. Francois Blaudeau, said that the surgery was “unremarkable.”
On May 3, Kamiya returned to school, but when she returned home, she was “lethargic, tired, and weak.”
The following day, her mother took Kamiya to a pediatrician, Dr. Theresa Bolus, at Midtown Pediatrics, which is owned and operated by Children’s of Alabama.
During this visit, Kamiya “showed signs and symptoms of a post-surgical complication, including nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and emesis, which Dr. Bolus witnessed,” the lawsuit says.
“The standard of care for a pediatrician required Dr. Bolus to recognize the signs and symptoms of a postsurgical complication and intervene appropriately, including a physical exam of the abdomen and imaging studies,” according to the suit, but instead, Bolus “dismissed Kamiya’s signs and symptoms as the result of pinworms” and conducted no physical exam on Bolus.
Following the visit, Sherry Robinson spoke with staff at Dr. Martin’s office who said to rely on Dr. Bolus’ medical advice, which involved treating the pinworms with oral medication at home.
The next day, Kamiya still wasn’t feeling well.
“The mother was still concerned about the child, and she contemplated going to the emergency room,” Dr. Blaudeau told CBS 42. “Ultimately, she decided to trust the doctors, who told her it was okay.”
What happened next continues to haunt Kamiya’s family.
“The baby ended up having a seizure, coding in front of her grandmother,” Blaudeau said. “So you can imagine the trauma of that experience.”
Kamiya’s grandmother called 911, the suit says. When EMS arrived, Kamiya did not have a pulse and paramedics tried to revive her. When Kamiya arrived back at Children’s Hospital, she had a “thready” pulse. She was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m.
In the wake of her daughter’s death, Kamiya’s mother filed a lawsuit claiming that Children’s of Alabama, Colin Martin, and Theresa Bolus “failed to meet the applicable standards of care in diagnosing and treating Kamiya” after she had a routine appendectomy in April 2021. That failure of care, the suit says, led to Kamiya’s death.
Children’s of Alabama, Martin, and Bolus have denied responsibility for Kamiya’s death in court filings. In separate responses to the suit, the hospital and the two doctors denied responsibility for her death and argued that the state’s wrongful death law violates the constitution.
Robinson amended the lawsuit this month, adding claims regarding Martin’s alleged witness tampering and naming two additional defendants – two health care product companies, Covidien and Medtronic, that she says failed to warn users of their products about “foreseeable dangers” that could lead to injury or death. The companies manufactured and distributed the stapler that was used during Kamiya’s surgery, according to the suit.
Regarding Martin, the lawsuit alleges that the surgeon improperly influenced Brandi McCleskey, the forensic pathologist who conducted Kamiya’s autopsy and determined her cause and means of death. Both Martin and McCleskey are professionally affiliated with UAB, according to its website.
The suit claims that Martin contacted the coroner, visited its office, spoke with McCleskey about the cause and manner of Kamiya’s death, and examined the late child’s bowel and the stump of her appendix, which had been attached to her intestine in error.
“Dr. Martin’s intentional contact with Dr. McCleskey before the rendering of the cause and manner of death operates as witness tampering or improper influence of a witness,” the lawsuit claims. “Dr. Martin’s contact, discussions, and involvement in the autopsy process and with Dr. McCleskey influenced the findings and conclusions of the autopsy report, including the final cause and manner of death.”
Martin did not notify Kamiya’s parents that he had examined their child’s organs, the suit says.
Bill Yates, Chief Deputy Coroner at the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner’s Office, refused comment for this story.
“Unfortunately, I will not be able to respond to your questions due to the complex civil litigation,” Yates wrote in an e-mail.
In a June interview, however, Yates spoke at length about the case with CBS 42. At the time of the interview, the coroner’s office had already been subpoenaed in the civil case.
During the interview, Yates denied that Martin had viewed the body of Kamiya Dufermeau.
“Dr. Martin did not view the body,” Yates said. “He was not present in the examination.”
Yates said that his office spoke with Martin about the case before Kamiya’s autopsy had been finalized but that such communications are not unheard of.
“It’s not uncommon for us to talk to any medical staff that’s been treating a patient up to the time of the death,” Yates said. “On occasion, we’ll reach back out to a treating clinician/physician that was treating a patient prior to death to better understand the treatment procedures that were performed, to ask about any possible complications with those types of procedures.”
Such a situation is “not real common,” Yates said.
Even if Martin had examined the body, he said, it wouldn’t necessarily have been an issue.
“What would have been a problem is if somebody else began an examination or did an examination without us present prior to affording us the ability to do it,” he said. “That would have been a problem.”
Yates could not recall a time his office allowed an outside party to observe or participate in an examination.
“It’s usually after the fact,” he said. “Most of the consults are after we have reviewed whatever records we’ve been able to obtain prior to the exam. Then the exam is performed and usually, there’s a consult afterwards.”
In this case, Yates said he wasn’t aware of what specific information Martin provided to his office but that the surgeon could have shed light on the circumstances surrounding the procedure.
“Physicians are highly trained in different specialties. So one doctor is not going to know all the ins and outs of a certain specialty like somebody who does it regularly. So we would need to reach out to them at some point to find out those things.”
Kamiya Dufermeau’s final autopsy, which concluded she died as a result of complications from the surgery Martin had performed, did not mention the coroner’s office consultation with the surgeon.
Kamiya’s mother and her legal team are expected to appear in court in October following a court order requiring Children’s of Alabama to produce documents it had so far failed to produce.
Sherry Robinson had said that despite the challenges this tragedy has presented, she’d committed to getting a day in court for Kamiya.
“I promise to be your voice and to keep fighting for you,” she said. “Rest, baby girl. Your job done here is finished. Save me a spot.”
CBS 42 reached out to Colin Martin for comment on this story but has not yet heard back.