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Severed Fingers at Fairmeadow Elementary

Original post made by ninadora on Oct 4, 2011

On Monday, May 16, 2011 our 11 year old son, Peter, was attending a regular day as a 5th grade student at Fairmeadow Elementary (k-5th grades) School in Palo Alto, part of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

At exactly 12:27pm, one of the two school front desk secretaries called our home phone, I answered. She said, "Could you please come to school? Peter has smashed his finger in the bathroom'"

I interrupted and said, "I'm on my way" and hung up the phone.

I arrived at school approx. 4 minutes later by car, and found there was a fire engine in the driveway, and heard an ambulance approaching. I found the secretary who had called standing waiting for me in the driveway with her hand over her mouth. I didn't stop but she walked with me and said that she had called 911 because of Peter's injury. I walked into the office and found Peter's teacher. As I walked into the nurse's office, I found the principal, and 3 to 5 paramedic or EMTs with Peter. Peter was sitting, crying uncontrollably, with a large bloody bandage covering his left hand. A paramedic or EMT told me that part of his finger was severed. He handed me an office-sized white envelope with the severed part inside. It included the nail and fingertip, and some bone.

They offered to drive us in an ambulance to Stanford ER, but I opted to drive. I took the envelope and my son, and turned to leave. Another staff member offered to drive us, but I declined and got into our car. Peter kept saying didn't want to leave school until he found the boy who closed the foor and told him that he forgave him and knew that it wasn't his fault. We left. I told him that right now we were just going to focus on breathing and driving.

I drove straight to Stanford ER and arrived there about 8 or 10 minutes later.

Peter was taken in without waiting and treated by the emergency room staff and after about an hour, a member of the hand team at Stanford. They attempted the re-attachment of his severed left middle finger. He was given x-rays of the hand, an IV of morphine, an antibiotic IV, and finally a cast and bandaging. The doctor stated that there was bone loss, and this was called an "amputation/crush injury".

They asked Peter what had happened, and Peter told them that at lunchtime, his friend at school accidentally closed the bathroom stall door where he didn't realize his finger was, and the door chopped his finger off.

I am a volunteer art teacher at his school. I am there every Friday from 1145am-1245pm. I know that he bell rings at 12:15 and the children start recess after lunch. This is probably exactly the time that this happened.

The principal called in the hours following, asking about Peter's condition, and I informed him of the events and he said that he stated to me that the boys were playing tag in the bathroom. I remember he said, "We don't play tag in the bathrooms here, but that's apparently how it happened". During my art classes at Fairmeadow, I have witnessed the boys playing tag in and out of the bathrooms. The previous week on May 13, the boys were playing tag around the bathroom. A boy I know approached me during my outdoor art class and asked if I had a band-aid. I sent him to the office as I could see he was bleeding from his hand, he had blood also on his face. We were standing outside the boys' bathroom, but I do not know any details of his minor injury. I am a volunteer art provider at school, I am not on staff and I do not, nor am I authorized, to discipline the children.

The following day after Peter's finger incident, a family friend came over with flowers and her 2 children. One attends Fairmeadow, and the other attended Fairmeadow in the past. She said, "I thought they had 'soft-close doors' in those bathrooms." The two boys said, Yeah, well not in THAT bathroom". They called it "The far bathroom near room 14". Another parent and mother of Peter's friend and classmate called to check on Peter. She said, "I'm not surprised. Those doors are way too heavy and way too sharp." She said she was surprised Peter maintained consciousness with the amount of blood he left in the bathroom and leading from there to the school front office. Thankfully, I did not see the blood trail.

On May 26th, Peter had his first day back at school. He was approached and welcomed by another 5th grade teacher. He said he is the one who went to find the finger part in the boys bathroom, and he told Peter that he found it stuck inside the door-jam. He said to him that he retrieved it, and gave it to the EMTs who in turn gave it to me to take to the ER.

Peter was then under care from the Hand Clinic Surgical Specialties Department at 730 Welch Road. The finger portion which was re-attached did not "take" and has turned black and will be removed. We had follow-up appointments weekly, and Peter was given yet another round of antibiotics. The middle finger will be somewhat deformed and short permanently. They said that re-attachment attempt was to serve as more of a "biological dressing" than as an indicator representing an expectation of a re-attachment.

Peter returned to school on May 26th, 10 days after the incident, with limitations of physical activity.

My brother-in-law is a South Florida Plastic Surgeon. He has been in constant contact with us as well as with all doctors who have seen Peter. He has all details of the medical terminology of what has been happening with Peter's finger, and agrees that in his opinion, Peter has received appropriate care to date.

I sent a letter to Mr. Skelly, the PAUSD superintendent. I told him that my son had a severed finger at Fairmeadow, and that left with me with two problems. 1) the doors at Fairmeadow need changing ASAP, and 2) we now have a medical bill for $10,000 which we cannot pay. I asked for his help with my two problems.

I received a call over the summer break from Risk Management at PASD. They refered the case to Keenan and Associates, who also called and said that they were going to send out an adjuster to look at the doors at Fairmeadow. I received a call today from Keenan and Associates. He said that they have decided that the doors fine, and they will not be changing them, nor will they be helping to pay any of our family's medical expenses resulting from the severed finger. He added that the only negligence was on the part of the child who had closed the door while exiting the bathroom.

I am posting this today in an attempt to draw attention to what I see is a real safety issue for Palo Alto School students, and it is my hope that mine is the last child to loose a finger at school in our town. Something needs to be done.
Nina Kaloostian
South Court

Comments (18)

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Bad accident, good that it was not worse.

Unfortunately kids get their fingers caught in car, home and other doors all the time and also get them caught in bike spokes etc.

I do not understand you say " we now have a medical bill for $10,000 "

Your family health insurance will cover your child's medical bills.

Posted by Palo Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm

What an assumption, not every family can afford $1,000 TO $1,500+ a month for "family health insurance" you know!

Posted by ninadora, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

ninadora is a registered user.

@sharon, our family, like 46 million other americans, have lost our health insurance. the bill for a visit to stanford ER could cost you 10,000 dollars, which includes a few follow-up visits.

Posted by ninadora, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

ninadora is a registered user.

@palo alto parent, thank you. the premium for our healthy family of 4 was at 1200 per month when we had to let it go years ago. this is not my point, however, my point is that safety doors need to be installed at ALL palo alto alto schools, especially at our elementary schools.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm


This is a sad tale and I have no comments for you other than to thank you for sharing. I hope your son is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

Posted by ninadora, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm

ninadora is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Ninadora: I'm so sorry this happened. Generally speaking, negligence occurs when there is a foreseeable harm/danger and but for the actions (or inactions) of the defendant harm results to the plaintiff. In this case, if you can indeed show that the doors previously harmed other children, you can show that the harm was foreseeable and the school administration did nothing to prevent future harms. Famous case in California law relating to a motel owner that did not have adequate lighting outside the motel in spite of repeated criminal acts was held liable because he failed to prevent future harms and it was foreseeable. He was therefore negligent. Every law student knows the case.

In any event, you don't have health insurance and likely cannot hire an attorney. Plus all you are asking for are that the school covers the cost of the medical bills. Why not file in small claims court for the maximum ($7500) and see what happens? Worth a shot. Here is the link to the SCC Court website. They have someone on staff that you can call or visit that can assist: Web Link

Secondly, you need to attend to the health insurance issue. Either sign up now for the health care that is offered to students or see if your child (and possibly you) qualify for Healthy Families or other health insurance. You can contact Bay Area Legal Aid and ask them what programs you might qualify for. I worked in the San Francisco office in the health unit division, but it has been several years. Mike Keys is the senior attorney. He probably can't help you with a civil suit against the school, as the unit primarily defends appeals against government entities that deny people such things as SSI, Medi-Cal, Denti-Cal, IHSS, etc., but he has a ton of information and can refer you to health insurance options for people that cannot afford traditional avenues. He might also know of a program that can help you pay these medical bills?

I hope this helps.
Best of luck to you.

p.s. To everyone else: If in fact other children have been previously harmed in the bathroom at this school, it is not OK that the administration has not sought to prevent future harms. The schools house our children all day and we need to know that they are safe in their care.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm


Here is the link to Bay Area Legal Aid's health unit. Call them to see if you might qualify for government subsidized health care? Web Link

Best Wishes

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 6:54 pm


I do hope that you already knew how ridiculous Sharon's threats are. I absolutely promise you that there is no CPS issue here and that family court is not interested in your son's injury or your lack of medical insurance or the school incident. I do have a Juris Doctorate degree and in my 3 years of law school and all of the work I have done know that CPS looks into credible cases of abuse. What you did for your child was exactly what one would expect a good parent to do. It is unfortunate that many families cannot afford health insurance, but it is not criminal or abusive. Sharon's accusations, however, are quickly amounting to a potential case of intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other torts. I would keep a log of these posts and if "she" continues to harrass you, I would think about taking these to a civil attorney. Many do actually do pro bono work.

Posted by ninadora, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 6:57 pm

ninadora is a registered user.

@Anonymous, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, thank you so much. i am much more concerned with the safety and preventing another accident. the insurance thing got out of hand because of a rogue commenter, but that also is beside the point. in the future, i will be sure to say "registered users only" if i ever post again, maybe that would help. Anonymous, you truly do have good advise, i really appreciate that! the bill will be paid but really, i want those crazy-sharp and heavy doors changed, at least as safe as the other schools in palo alto. my son is now at JLS right next door and they have the safety devices there. i dont like the idea that this has to happen twice before its serious enough for them to look at. believe me, one severed finger is enough. i will certainly look into your resources. i am resisting any kind of law-suit, all i want is safety at this point its physical and emotional pain i want to prevent, not so much financial. all i need is for my kid to be the last one that loses a finger at school in our town. thank you so much.

Posted by ninadora, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm

ninadora is a registered user.

dear Anonymous, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, thank you for your supportive comments and for your kind thoughts! i understand that some people can't help themselves.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm


You're welcome and I think that with enough pressure, the school will change the door. Maybe you could make the incident public to other parents and ask to create a fund to replace the door. I'm sure that many parents would be willing to contribute. Naturally, that will require a certain amount of cooperation from the school, as you need to know how much a replacement door will cost, but this is a non-legal option that could quickly remedy the problem.

If you contact Bay Area Legal Aid, I am quite sure they will identify resources for you that could possibly pay for your medical bills, assuming you meet the income guidelines.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2011 at 7:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2011 at 1:04 am

Paly Alum is a registered user.

This is an unfortunate incident. Surely PiE could afford to change the door and I suggest you write to them: Web Link

As for health insurance, Palo Alto is an expensive city. One should not forego health insurance to continue to live in this city. It is unbelievable that a family could live in Palo Alto for years without health insurance. I could not sleep at night if I did not have health insurance for my family. OP is fortunate the bill is "only" $10,000. The reason it's called "insurance" is because it's unpredictable when one will need it and people should not gamble with health.

Posted by South of Midtown Mom, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2011 at 9:56 am

South of Midtown Mom is a registered user.

Paly Alum: I don't find it as surprising as you that one might not have health insurance. If it were not for COBRA, my husband and I would not have been insured for a 17 month period, and it had nothing to do with being able to afford it. It had to do with qualifying for it. My husband retired early and I continued to work for a while. We were on my health insurance. When I left my job, we initially looked into various health insurance plans and applied to a couple of them, because they are cheaper options than COBRA. These were individual/family plans that were not employer sponsored and thus required a detailed accounting of our medical health. I am pretty healthy in spite of some typical issues- high blood pressure, & previous basal cell carcinoma (non-invasive type of skin cancer) that was removed over 7 years ago. I am thin. I don't have any other health issues. Apparently, I tilted the health risk scale too high and I was denied coverage. My 8 year old son was disqualified because he is treated for hyperactivity and my husband was disqualified because of his high cholesterol and blood pressure. Thank God for COBRA and HIPPA for those of us that are too young for Medicare and can't qualify for a plan on our own. However, what about those that are self-employed and cannot qualify for individual/ family plans due to various health issues? I heard you can seek high risk catastrophic coverage through the state, but short of this, their only option is to self-insure.

Sometimes it is not a money issue, but rather one surrounding the access to insurer plans. We were willing to pay for the coverage, but apparently without the protections of being in a pooled group plan where pre-existing conditions are excluded, we would have been out of luck!!! And, I do agree with you, I would be petrified to not have insurance, because all it takes is one major medical event and it could potentially eat away at one's savings/ investments. I knew a family whose son was involved in a terrible accident on Hwy 101 and the Stanford Hospital medical bills totaled close to 1 million.

Posted by ninadora, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

ninadora is a registered user.

thank you for your supportive comments. we have no interest in suing anybody. we asked for help with the bill, but we are more importantly demanding that the forced-closing door be changed to prevent further injury to other children. after they officially rejected the idea of safer doors yesterday, i contacted the post which had already contacted the school district about the incident. our sons are now at JLS, where all bathrooms have "soft-closing doors" which make an amputation injury impossible. the boy who closed the door is not at fault whatsoever, and it was not slammed. neither boy had ever been in trouble or had ever been reprimanded at school for any behavior issues. there was no ill-will whatsoever. after the incident, the doors were propped open with cones for some time, which is no solution, as the urinals were visible from the courtyard. i do not want to hear about another lost finger at Fairmeadow. Period. change that damned door!

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