Scanning the news, I came across this small item:

Coma Girl may Testify about Alleged Attacker.

And therein lies a story that cautions those who would stop treatment should at least hesitate a moment and humbly admit that sometimes they are wrong.

You see, Haleigh was a child from a dysfunctional family, taken from her mother by the DSS and then adopted by an aunt several years earlier.

But in September 2005, she was apparantly beaten into a coma:

On Sept. 11, the couple brought Haleigh in ”an unresponsive state” to Noble Hospital in Westfield, according to court documents.

”Haleigh had both old and new bruises, old and new open cuts, several apparent weeping burns, and a CAT scan revealed a subdural hematoma [a collection of blood on the surface of the brain],”….

Court documents show that police located a witness who said Holli Strickland had beaten Haleigh with various objects, including a baseball bat, and had thrown the girl down the stairs.

After the parents were arested, the adoptive mother committed suicide, leaving only a stepfather in charge of making medical decisions.

The Massachusetts Department of Social Services promptly went to court to stop all life support on Haleigh, and ironically it was the alleged abusive step father who fought to keep her alive. Cynically, he was accused of doing so in order that he not be charged with murder.

Wizbang Blog is typical of those who read of the case:

… 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre is in a hospital following a horrific beating. She is on life support, and doctors say she will never recover (pending a miracle) — her brain stem has been sheared off. They use terms such as “brain dead” and “persistent vegetative state” to describe her condition, and she is sustained by a respirator and a d feeding tube. …

Doctors, state officials, and Haleigh’s birth mother and her surviving grandmother all support removing the life support, and allowing Haliegh to pass on with dignity.

Ummm…not so fast. Usually, one cannot diagnose “persistant Vegetative state” until it is…persistant. In medicine, this means three to six months, not six days.

MaxedOutMama Blog points out the initial court order to stop all medical treatment was not January 2006, but October 5, 2005…

This is especially true in children, who have a more “plastic” brain that often recovers from even severe injuries. So why the rush to discontinue life support before there was time? Yes, her father might have interest in keeping her alive.

But the state (who faces a huge hospital bill, not to mention a huge lawsuit for her care since they failed to intervene when previous evidence of abuse had been noted) also had an interest –in making her dead.

Ironically because of the slowness of court appeals, Haleigh’s life support was not ended in October after the first court approved the state’s petition, and by the time the courts made the final decision in January she was starting to show signs of alertness.

A January 2006 report shows that the day after the court authorized the hospital to stop treatment, she was able to be removed from the breathing machine, and needed only a feeding tube, and the DSS said they didn’t plan to do that quite yet.

Yet a more disturbing pattern was found by the Boston Globe, who found that in September, that state officials sought to end her treatment only six days after the state had gained custody.

In the brief filed with the Supreme Judicial Court, which was made public at the request of lawyers representing the Globe and the The Republican in Springfield, the agency outlined its reasons for seeking a court order on Sept. 19 to end the girl’s life….

Back to the Boston Globe report:

It said that Haleigh, during her first week in the hospital, was ”unresponsive.” On Sept. 17, the child’s ”intracranial pressure increased, and she was diagnosed as having a stroke of the entire right side and most of the left side of her brain.” Due to those strokes and her brain trauma, the brief said, ”the child has no hope of meaningful recovery.”

Ah yes, “meaningful recovery”.

That is the problem.

There is a fine line between stopping treatment that is extraordinary, especially in those who have lived a full life and/or have many other medical illesses, and stopping treatment on a person because you think brain damaged and crippled people have life not worthy of living.

RaggedEdgeMagazine reported:

Only eight days after Haleigh was hospitalized, the MA Social Services Dept. sought permission from a Juvenile Court judge to remove her life support. “It was a quick move because the doctors believed that intrusive care was both inhumane and useless,” Spence told the Associated Press’s Adam Gorlick.

And therein lies the problem: we have made lifesaving care and twisted it into “inhumane and useless”…

Yet one doubts that this is what the doctors actually said: Because doctors might say “little hope” but few will have said “no hope”. We docs learn humility in these cases. And the fact that the doctors managed to wean Haleigh off her respirator successfully while the state was trying to pull stop it suddenly (which probably would have killed her) says more about the state’s advocacy system than about the practice of medicine at Baystate Medical Center.

Fast forward two years, and after a long term of rehabilitation, Haleigh is able to communicate with a keyboard and speak some words.

She may be able to testify who beat her.

So the irony is that she is alive because of her father’s selfishness (or remorse) and can testify against him…but that those who sought to end her life after being told she wouldn’t have a “meaningful” life won’t be at court.

One hopes that they will learn humility from this case.

One hopes also that Haleigh she will find loving caretakers who will help her in the hard road ahead of her.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She has worked with the mentally disabled, and  once worked at Baystate Medical Center.

Crossposted to HeyDoc Xanga Blog 

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