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Foster Mom Infected
September 25, 2011 permalink
The province of British Columbia tested foster teen MW and found her positive for hepatitis C. But she was placed in the foster home of Teresa Iezzi without any warning of her dangerous disease. While administering aid to the girl, Iezzi was infected herself. How did the province help Iezzi? They cut off her foster contract putting her in financial distress and now refuse to take responsibility for her infection.
Foster mom battles B.C. in Hep-C claim
Teresa Iezzi says province didn't tell her drug-abusing teen had disease
The night of Feb. 4, 2001 began as a typical one for Burnaby foster mom Teresa Iezzi, although events were to transpire that changed her life.
Her house was packed with four or five high-risk teens, as part pf a 20-year contract with B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Iezzi says she tried to create a warm environment for the vulnerable youngsters.
"We specialized in Italian home cooking and lots of love," she says.
But when Burnaby RCMP picked up a troubled teen identified as "MW" and dropped her off late that night, it began a string of events that ended up in B.C. Supreme Court.
Iezzi is suing the province for negligence after she accidentally contracted the deadly hepatitis C disease from MW and her health was severely affected.
The province says Iezzi's actions were negligent and the case should be thrown out.
'SHE WAS CRAZY, WILD'
When the ministry asked if it was all right for the RCMP to drop off MW that fateful night, Iezzi said it would be OK.
"I never say no when they call me in an emergency," says Iezzi, now 67 and living in Chilliwack with family.
A bedroom was prepared downstairs and MW, 18, ate a little food when she arrived.
"She was a mess. I don't like to talk about kids like that, but she was a junkie," says Iezzi.
More details have come out about MW's background from court documents. She was a "chronic runaway," had overdosed twice and suffered "severe sexual abuse from her natural dad."
MW soon went to bed, but the house wasn't quiet for long.
After hearing someone banging against the walls, Iezzi rushed downstairs. She found MW in a convulsed state from a heroin and cocaine overdose. "She was crazy, wild," says Iezzi.
A needle was sticking out of MW's arm, and without thinking of her own safety, Iezzi gave into her instincts as a caregiver.
"The last thing I was thinking about was the needle. We are all human beings. I tried to help," she says.
In the confusion while calming the teenager down, Iezzi says, she barely noticed the needle sticking out from her own leg.
Paramedics, police and fire personnel showed up, but MW refused to leave Iezzi's care.
"I stayed up all night with her and took her to detox the next day, but she ran away," says Iezzi. It was months before an unsuspecting Iezzi learned she had hep C, a blood-borne disease that attacks the liver, causing joint pain, dental problems, fatigue and sore muscles. It can be fatal.
It took much longer to find out that the province already knew MW had hep C when she arrived on Iezzi's doorstep.
Documents from 1999 show MW tested positive for hep C at a government-run youth detention centre. Iezzi denies being told beforehand about MW's serious ailment when she arrived late that night.
Her lawyer, Ian Waddell, a former MP and MLA, says the ministry was "negligent."
"I have the smoking gun," he says. Provincial counsel Keith Johnston says the province does not concede the point that Iezzi was not told.
He says Iezzi "knowingly accepted the risk" by permitting intravenous drug users to come to her home.
PROVINCIAL ACTIONS 'OUTRAGEOUS'
Iezzi's claim has been making its way through B.C. Supreme Court since being filed in 2009.
It is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 31, but earlier this year the province asked for it to be thrown out on the basis that Iezzi took more than two years to file her claim.
Justice Grant Burnyeat ruled against the province on Aug. 25, but his decision is being appealed.
Waddell says Iezzi had good reasons to take so long: The province did not disclose to her that it knew about MW's condition in 1999, despite her repeated requests for information.
Court documents show ministry staff tried to persuade Iezzi several times to agree to a $30,000 settlement after her foster contract was suddenly cancelled in 2006.
Waddell calls the province's actions "outrageous."
"She gave them 23 years of her life. Are they ever going to settle? This woman is now 67 and she's not all that well. She has nothing. It seems so inhumane," he says.
Iezzi says hep C-related dental care has cost $40,000. She says $60,000 was lost on the sale of her house after her foster contract was cancelled and the family's mortgage payments vanished with it. (The province cited financial reasons for letting her go, but Iezzi believes it was related to MW.)
Iezzi says she is still suffering. "I have constant pain in my bones and muscles. I feel tired all the time. You never know when the hep C is coming back," she says. "I am so upset. It's horrible. I just want some justice. It's very stressful to fight all this garbage."
Waddell says the case has implications for foster parents all over B.C.
"They do a heck of a job. They're indispensable. They have no representation, no insurance and no union," he says.
'SHE CHOSE TO INTERVENE'
The province admits "in all likelihood" Iezzi contracted the disease from MW, but denies all her claims.
Johnston says Iezzi "knowingly" accepted children in her home who were prone to "high risk activities."
"MW was highly agitated and emotionally unstable [when she arrived]. [Iezzi] witnessed the child administering illicit drugs intravenously and notwithstanding the obvious risk, she chose to intervene," says Johnston. Iezzi's medical condition is disputed by the crown.
Johnston says she was "essentially cleared" of the hep C virus following treatment in 2003-04, but admitted there is evidence she has some "residual effects."
"This is a personal injury claim. The question is, who is responsible for the fact she was infected with hep C?" he asks.
Waddell says Iezzi has felt the full weight of the crown. "We are up against Goliath. Our opponents have very deep pockets," he says.
A spokesperson for the attorney-general's department, which is defending the case, said it never comments on matters which are before the courts.
Source: The Province
Addendum: The courts dismiss Iezzi's claim.
B.C. foster mom has Hepatitis C lawsuit dismissed
The B.C. Court of Appeal has thrown out the case of a former foster parent suing the government after being allegedly infected with Hepatitis C by a drugged-up teen client.
Teresita Iezzi claims the government failed to warn her that the teen, who accidentally stabbed her in 2001 with a needle while the teen was shooting up heroin, had the sometimes-fatal liver disease.
The government tried to have the case tossed out on the grounds that she had not filed the suit within the two-year time limitation, but a B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed that argument.
The government appealed the Supreme Court decision and in a ruling released Thursday, that appeal was upheld and Iezzi’s action was dismissed.
Iezzi was diagnosed with the disease in 2002 and underwent chemotherapy for nine months in 2003. She did not connect the infection with the needle incident until one day in 2003 when she saw the teen on the street.
In early 2006, she told a social worker who placed foster children in her care that she had contracted the disease and asked him to review records to determine whether there was a link with the incident.
Iezzi was told in February or March 2006, that records confirmed that the child had the disease at the time of her placement in 2001.
Her foster parent contract with the children and family development ministry was cancelled in April 2006, but the decision is not alleged to have been made due to her health.
Several months later she complained about the cancellation and notified the ministry that she’d contracted the disease.
A fact-finding process was undertaken by the ministry between 2007 and February 2008 to look into the allegation regarding the teen’s infection.
In April 2008, the ministry made an offer to her for inadequate notice of termination and for the infection but she rejected the offer.
At about the same time, the social worker leaked to her a document confirming the Hepatitis C positive status of the teen at the time of placement.
She made a freedom of information request that confirmed the information in the document.
The trial judge decided that the limitation period had not expired because she was under stress and there were ongoing negotiations and the possibility of a settlement.
But B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Ian Donald found that Iezzi could have filed the lawsuit much earlier than she did.
He said there was no difference in circumstance for Iezzi between the time of the FOI request and the previous two years.
“The respondent was in as good a position to do in 2006 what she did in 2008 to confirm the social worker’s information. Her financial stresses and medical problems were the same. She lost her house in 2006. There is no evidence her health changed over the period 2006-2008.”
Donald concluded the limitation period had expired when she started the lawsuit, allowed the government’s appeal and dismissed the action.
His ruling was concurred in by Justice Peter Lowry and Madam Justice Kathryn Neilson. Iezzi could not be reached for comment.
Source: The Province