• Jim Ferraro

The Discovery of a Misfortune


Donna Castillo was testifying in the case against DuPont. She had provided some background on her work, her pregnancy and now she was telling the court about what happened after her son Johnny was born.


Something seemed amiss, but no one knew what at the moment. It was only later that Donna and her husband Juan would be told that their son’s eyelid skin was fused shut. The nurse wasn’t able to give him the drops as she normally would. She called in some specialists who congratulated the Castillos on the birth of their son, but even then, no one spoke of the horrible surprise the family was about to receive. They simply brought Donna back to the labor room to bathe her.


It was while Donna and Juan were making their way back to their private room that they encountered a neonatologist from the hospital. He introduced himself and nonchalantly said he wasn’t totally sure, but he thought maybe John had been born without eyes.


“I remember staring at this doctor in shock,” she said, “and then hearing my husband say, ‘You mean to tell me you’re saying he doesn’t have any eyes?’ And all I remember is seeing the doctor’s mouth move without hearing any sound,” Donna said as tears slowly streamed down her cheeks.


There was no family or genetic history of this type of birth defect on either Donna’s or Juan’s side. In fact, after John was born, both Donna and Juan had significant genetic testing done, and their results reflected perfectly normal genetic makeups for each of them. No genetic defects were present in them or anywhere in their families.


While Donna had undergone fertility treatments to conceive her first child, there was no evidence that any of the fertility drugs she had taken would have caused the birth defect John was born with. Nor was there any evidence that surgeries Donna underwent prior to giving birth to her son could have led to his condition.


One of the defense’s arguments was that Donna’s past medical history might have been a possible cause of John’s birth defect. In particular, the opposing team was aggressively going to attempt to plant seeds of doubt around Donna’s fertility issues and subsequent miscarriages during the time she and Juan were trying to conceive.


There was absolutely no medical evidence to prove those miscarriages, which took place two years prior to Johnny’s conception, were related to his being born without eyes. No medical doctor of any sort had ever stated to Donna and Juan that there was any relationship whatsoever. This was an extremely important point to make, because despite the lack of medical viability, the defense was going to go after Donna hard on these issues in cross-examination.


Once I felt we had sufficiently covered Donna’s medical history, it was time to recap that fateful day in November 1989.


I set up an easel with photographs of the neighborhood Donna and Juan lived in so she could re-create the route of her walk on the day in question. The Castillos lived in an apartment complex called LeParc on SW 142 Street at the corner of SW 96th Street in West Kendall. She took walks often, usually twice a day.


If her schedule allowed, she liked to go out in the morning after breakfast and again in the afternoon, sometime after lunch. Her daughter, Adrianna, was still a toddler at the time, so wherever Donna went, she was usually pushing her in a stroller.


Donna then showed us what had happened that day, which I recount in my next post.


You can find more details about the case, and how it played out, in my book, Blindsided , from which this blog post is adapted.