Thursday, January 19, 2006
Comatose Mass. Girl Responds to Stimuli
By ADAM GORLICK, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 25 minutes ago
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Doctors say new tests are needed on a severely beaten 11-year-old girl, who officials said was responding to medical stimuli and breathing on her own a day after Massachusetts' highest court ruled the state had the authority to remove her from life support.
Denise Monteiro, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Social Services, which has custody of Haleigh Poutre, said doctors will perform more tests "to see what the movements mean."
She would not say how Haleigh was responding or to what tests. The girl has been in a coma for four months and thought to be in an irreversible vegetative state.
"There's a possible change in her condition," Monteiro said Wednesday. "She's having some responses."
Haleigh's stepfather, Jason Strickland, is charged with beating the girl and could face a murder charge if she dies. He has fought to keep her on life support but lost his appeal Tuesday in the Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts' highest court.
The court ruled that the social services department had the authority to remove the ventilator and feeding tube after doctors said the girl was in an irreversible vegetative state.
On Wednesday afternoon, however, doctors told the social services agency that Haleigh's condition had changed, Monteiro told the Boston Globe in its Thursday editions. She said Haleigh was breathing on her own and the agency had no immediate plans to remove her feeding tube.
One of Strickland's lawyers said Wednesday he wants more time to decide whether to bring the case before a federal judge.
"This is exactly the point we were trying to make. What's the rush? Just give her a chance," attorney John Egan said. "Medical science is not that certain. We would hope the whole process will slow down, and everyone will step back and end the compulsion to end her life."
Haleigh's doctors have said her brain stem is damaged and she would die within a few days without a feeding tube.
Some patients with severe brain stem injuries may partially recover from a persistent vegetative state, but they rarely recover fully enough to communicate, feed themselves and live ordinary lives, Dr. Steve Williams, chief of rehabilitation medicine at Boston Medical Center, told the Globe. But he said recovery is more likely with children than adults.
"There's more plasticity to their brain. There's potentially other areas of the brain that can take over," he said.
Haleigh's aunt and adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, also was charged with assault but was found dead less than two weeks later alongside her grandmother in a possible murder-suicide.
The girl's biological mother, Allison Avrett, had supported removing Haleigh from life support. She said she met with state officials and doctors Wednesday but would not comment on reports of her daughter's responses.
Along with deciding that Jason Strickland has no say in Haleigh's medical care, the state's highest court also denied his request to unseal court documents related to Haleigh's life support.
The documents were not made public because of confidentiality laws. That has led to some concerns that the social services agency is making life-and-death decisions without any outside review.