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Ex-doctor sentenced to prison in death of abortion patient

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By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / September 15, 2010

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BARNSTABLE — She arrived at the Smith household almost 18 years ago, a small raven-haired girl with tattered and dirty clothing, a black eye, and all her possessions in a plastic grocery bag, except for the doll she held in her hand. Tom and Eileen Smith wrapped the neglected, abused, and abandoned girl with their love, only to lose her later to a botched medical procedure.

By all accounts, Laura Smith lived life to the fullest, according to her family and friends.

“She never seemed to suffer any ill effects because of her upbringing,’’ Tom Smith said yesterday afternoon in Barnstable District Court. Smith continued, turning from Judge Gary Nickerson to Rapin Osathanondh, sitting about 20 feet away.

“You, sir,’’ Smith started, but was interrupted by Nickerson, who advised him not to comment directly to the defendant. Smith turned again to Osathanondh and continued, “You, sir, destroyed a precious flower that blossomed in our lives, not accidentally but on purpose.’’

On Sept. 13, 2007, Laura Smith, 22, died during an abortion procedure performed by Osathanondh, a Harvard-affiliated obstetrician, at the Women’s Health Center in Hyannis.

Investigators discovered that the doctor’s office lacked basic resuscitation equipment, that he was not certified for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and that he failed to monitor her vital signs.

Authorities also said he took great measure to conceal those facts, going as far as creating false CPR cards, remodeling his office, and buying the necessary equipment such as a defibrillator. When investigators arrived at his office, he told them that it was as it had been when Smith died.

Smith had been 13 weeks pregnant.

On the anniversary of Smith’s death, Osathanondh pleaded guilty Monday to involuntary manslaughter, following an agreement between Cape and Islands prosecutors and his lawyers.

Osathanondh was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in prison, but will serve only six months as the remainder of the sentence was suspended.

He was also sentenced to nine months’ home confinement to follow, and three years’ probation to start immediately.

He had faced up to 20 years in prison before the agreement. As a result of a separate civil trial, Osathanondh was ordered to pay the Cape Cod family $2 million.

Osathanondh stood as Nickerson rendered his sentence, and two court officers placed handcuffs on the 67-year-old former doctor. Osathanondh was escorted by two sheriff’s deputies outside and into a waiting cruiser.

Osathanondh resigned his medical license two years ago after the medical board accused him of misconduct, and he was barred from practicing medicine in Massachusetts.

He graduated from a medical school in Thailand, where he was born and grew up, and was licensed in Massachusetts in 1974.

He became a visiting scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2002.

The board alleged that Osathanondh had placed Smith under sedation without any means to monitor her heart rate, blood pressure, or the oxygen level of her blood.

The board said the doctor had no qualified person assisting him while Smith was under anesthesia. The only other person in the room was an office worker who had no training in CPR or other life-saving procedures.

The board added Osathanondh “failed to timely initiate a call to 911, failed to maintain an adequate airway,’’ and “failed to adhere to basic cardiac life support protocol.’’

After the sentencing, Paul Cirel, Osathanondh’s lawyer, said “we ended up with a fair and just result . . . he really does feel a tremendous amount of remorse as a result of this.’’

Smith was born in Honduras and studied cosmetology at the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School.

Eileen Smith, holding a picture of her daughter yesterday, said, “I feel it’s been a fight for three years to get this man what he deserves.’’

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.

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