LOS GATOS -- In Sarah Hitchcock-Glover's eyes, pools of tears come and go like color-saturated, Kodachrome memories.
Adam Glover, her only child, now exists only in photographs. He is reading a Harry Potter book or posing with the family dog. He is a 12-year-old on a father-son Yosemite adventure, smiling a few days before inexplicably dying at a Modesto hospital.
His mother desperately wants to know more about why her son died. She wants to ask questions and get back more than silence. But because of a decades-old $250,000 cap on medical damage awards -- which California voters have the power to reject -- she could not get anyone to follow through on her case. So now her life is consumed with getting the law changed.
"It's about someone demeaning or minimizing the value of a life... by not investigating the wrongs that go on over and over and over," Hitchcock-Glover said. "I don't find it offensive that someone thinks my son's life is only worth $250,000. I find it offensive that people -- these insurance companies -- have prevented these things from being disclosed."
It was five years ago when Hitchcock-Glover's son was frolicking with his dad in Yosemite at springtime. He suddenly got sick -- a bad stomach ache and vomiting. He went to a Yosemite clinic and then on to a hospital in Modesto, where doctors performed an emergency appendectomy. Still, something wasn't right.
"There was something else going on, which was never investigated," Hitchcock-Glover said. "Throughout the day it was obvious that he was on a perpetual, progressive trail of what medical professionals who have reviewed his chart tell us was a classic case of hypovolemic shock."
The boy couldn't urinate. His stomach was distended. His heart rate was up. An oxygen monitor went haywire, only to be replaced by another, and then another. Coming off a long shift, the boy's doctor appears to have never consulted a pediatrician, or ordered further tests, Hitchcock-Glover said.
In a hallway, 18 hours after surgery, the young boy collapsed. After eight hours on life-support, he was pronounced dead.
Hitchcock-Glover and her husband began to believe that medical indications were missed.
"We are not litigious people," Hitchcock-Glover said, "I fought it for the longest time." But they couldn't get anyone from the hospital to talk to them. Wanting answers, she began looking for lawyers.
That's when she learned about the state's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, signed into law in 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Critics of the law say it minimized the value of cases involving people with no source of income -- the elderly, children and stay-at-home parents. With medical cases expensive to prosecute, they say the 38-year-old cap now acts as a barrier to justice, with victims unable to convince lawyers to risk their own money on experts, subpoenas and evidence without the chance for a bigger award.
"We wanted answers. We wanted full disclosure so that lessons could be learned. We were convinced things had been missed and to this day," said Hitchcock-Glover. "Now, five years later, not one lesson has been learned because it has been swept under the rug."
California's cap now counts among a handful of other states as the lowest in the country: Other states that passed caps during the mid-1970s malpractice rate crisis, have long since raised them.
Driven largely by powerful trial lawyers, there have been unsuccessful efforts to change the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. A Danville father, who lost two children and unborn twins to a drugged driver who turned out to be a doctor-shopping pill-popper -- and the group Consumer Watchdog are pushing a ballot initiative to raise the cap, winning approval last week to circulate petitions for a possible 2015 measure.
In response, the industry is gearing up for a major fight. Last month, physicians, hospital and insurance groups dumped $31.5 million into a political action committee -- Patients and Providers to Protect Access and Contain Health Costs.
The California Medical Association is spearheading hundreds of groups, which have spent years fighting efforts to raise the cap. They say it would increase malpractice insurance costs and accelerate the rising costs of health care, threaten community clinics and other providers operating on tight margins, and decrease access to care.
Politically, the issue is heated one. In August, Assembly Speaker John Perez was critical of the initiative effort, saying it undermines efforts to change MICRA -- even though the issue has been floating around Sacramento for years without legislative action.
Hitchcock-Glover wants to avoid a well-funded, warlike campaign that includes industry mudslinging. Instead, she simply wants the Legislature to fix things¿.
That sentiment is shared by the Consumer Attorneys of California.
"Essentially having this cap puts the value of some lives "... as being worth no more than $250,000," Consumer Attorneys of California spokesman J.G. Preston said. "We don't think that's much incentive for medical providers to be careful about their medical care because in that world, that's hardly a slap on the wrist."
But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has sought action, saying the cap could be raised while balancing protections for doctors and hospitals.
"This is not an issue that's going to go away," Steinberg's communications director Mark Hedlund said.
Still, years after their son's death, Hitchcock-Glover and husband Fred are struggling. She works at an outdoor preschool her son once attended as they fight to keep their home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hitchcock-Glover went through years of grief counseling.
"I'm still climbing up the other end of that big black hole," Hitchcock-Glover said.
And five years later, she still doesn't know what took her son's life.