Last year, a family fled California to New Jersey to keep their daughter alive. In California, hospitals may terminate life support for terminally brain dead patients. New Jersey, on the other hand, accommodates patients who are declared brain dead and does not accept it as a final declaration of death. In the case of this family, a California doctor misdiagnosed their daughter as brain dead and almost killed her.
Doctors Pushed for Risky Surgery and Botched It
A girl diagnosed with sleep apnea was scheduled for surgery at an Oakland, CA hospital. Rather than treating the 13-year-old girl with a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP), the doctor opted for a complex and risky surgery that drastically increased the risk for hemorrhaging after the procedure.
After the surgery, the hemorrhage risk was not reported to the medical staff working in the post-anesthesia care unit or the pediatric intensive care unit. When the girl began coughing up blood, the nurses assured her parents it was normal. That day, the girl lost two liters of blood. Ultimately, her vitals continued to plummet and her heart stopped for 30 minutes, depriving her brain of oxygen. Doctors revived the girl but declared her brain dead. A death certificate was quickly issued.
Family Filed a Restraining Order on Hospital to Keep Their Daughter Alive
The mother of the supposedly brain dead child knew something was wrong and insisted to the doctors that her daughter was responsive to simple requests. The medical staff was frustrated with the family, and did not seem remotely concerned about the possibility of their daughter making any sort of recovery. Instead, the doctors wanted to harvest the girl’s organs and pressured the family for days to consent. During one reported emotional scene, the pediatric chief slammed his fist on the table and shouted to the family, “What is it you don’t understand? She is dead, dead, dead, dead.”
The family hired an attorney who worked quickly to obtain four signed declarations from other neurological professionals who looked at her scans and said that the girl was disabled, but was not in fact brain dead. The family filed a restraining order on the hospital to prevent the staff from removing their daughter from life support without consent, and moved their daughter to New Jersey where she would continue to be treated.
It is Important to Seek a Second Opinion from Other Medical Professionals
The family remains in New Jersey to continue to receiving care for their daughter, who is stable and makes hand gestures when prompted. They are currently in a legal battle to have the death certificate rescinded so they can return to California and continue to receive care for their daughter.
While we are supposed to trust medical professionals who care for us and our loved ones, it is easy to forget they can make mistakes with devastating consequences. In this instance, the doctors were so concerned with the patient’s organs, they completely overlooked the fact she was responsive, and her brain was very much alive. This case goes to show the necessity for patients to seek second opinions for diagnoses. Had the parents not sought out other professionals or taken legal steps, the doctors may have killed their daughter for her organs.