Support removed from baby born without a brain

March 30, 1992|By Tony Pugh and Jim Haner | Tony Pugh and Jim Haner,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Doctors removed 9-day-old Theresa Ann Pearson from life support late last night after the newborn's other vital organs began to fail.

Theresa, born with no brain March 21 at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., wasn't expected to survive the night, said Walter G. Campbell, a lawyer representing the baby's mother and father.

"The family is very upset. They're very distraught," Mr. Campbell said, his voice quivering. "It's hard to talk to them right now without getting very distraught yourself."

Theresa's father, Justin Pearson, rushed to the hospital late yesterday after he learned Theresa developed acidosis, a condition in which carbon dioxide builds up in the blood.

"There's so much acid in her blood right now that her organs are being destroyed," Mr. Campbell said. "I have been told the chances are that she will die before the night is out." He said that, "at the latest," Theresa would die sometime today.

Les Olson, director of organ procurement at the University of Miami, explained that acidosis could be caused by several factors, including lung failure, infection or inflammation. "We don't expect to be able to retrieve any vital organs after she is declared dead," Mr. Olson said last night.

Theresa's condition began deteriorating early Saturday. Doctors placed her on a ventilator after she developed breathing problems because her lungs are underdeveloped and the brain cells that control breathing simply aren't there, said Dr. Brian Udell, chief of the neonatal intensive care unit.

Today, the family's lawyers are expected to take their request to remove the baby's organs to the Florida Supreme Court. Mr. Campbell said he would continue the case even if Theresa died.

Saturday's ventilator hookup was made after medical staff told her parents, Pearson and Laura Campo of Coral Springs, Fla., that "it looked like death would occur" without it, Dr. Udell said. The machine restored minimal breathing, but Dr. Udell said her deteriorating condition was typical of babies who grow progressively weaker after being born with anencephaly, an affliction that stops the brain from forming beyond its stem. "She's dwindling a little every day even if it's not perceptible," Dr. Udell said. "Every day she gets a little weaker."

On Friday, a state appeals court in West Palm Beach, Fla., upheld Broward Circuit Judge Estella Moriarty's ruling that state law requires there be no brain function whatsoever before Theresa can be declared dead and her vital organs taken.

Judge Moriarty OK'd the removal of "non-life-threatening" organs one kidney and the corneas -- but Mr. Olson said chances of finding a suitable single kidney recipient -- one with compatible blood and tissue and within several months of age -- were limited.

Today, Mr. Campbell and fellow attorney Scott Mager are expected to appeal the rulings to the Florida Supreme Court. Mr. Mager said he would argue that the state had infringed on the family's right to make a private decision with their doctor.

For now, Theresa receives glucose intravenously. The bandages around her deformed skull are changed two to three times a day depending on fluid buildup. Her medical costs: $1,750 per day.

Dr. Udell said he wasn't sure if the child felt pain, but said, "When you stick this tiny baby, there is withdrawal to the action."

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