MILY SUFFERED A DEVASTATING CAR ACCIDENT in
December of 1997. The 19-year-old was brought to the hospital with
severe head injuries and after many weeks, her condition failed
to improve. Emily’s mother was told that her daughter would more
than likely be in a persistent, vegetative state for the rest of
her life. When several more months passed and Emily’s condition
remained unchanged, the mother was faced with the difficult decision
of whether to place her daughter in a nursing home or take her home.
Emily was unable to speak or communicate, but her eyes would open
from time to time. It was the only way she responded. She had a
tracheotomy and a tube was used to feed her formula.
mother sensed that Emily would never have wanted to live in this
condition. She told Emily’s caregivers that she was going to take
her home, gradually stop the tube feedings, and allow her to die.
The Hospice team had concerns, and the case was taken before the
Ethics Committee. After prayerful consideration, the committee decided
that it was medically ethical for the mother to stop Emily’s feedings
if that was what she believed her daughter would have wanted.
The young girl was taken home. Over time, she was gradually weaned
off food. After about two months, however, her mother noticed a
change in Emily’s eye movements. She seemed more responsive.
A hospice nurse caring for Emily encouraged the child to let her
mother know if she wanted to be awake. The next day, Emily again
moved her eyes. The mother knew Emily could understand her. The
feedings resumed and Emily gradually became more alert. Finally,
her tracheotomy was closed and she could mouth words to prove she
was aware of her surroundings. Emily was eventually evaluated for
rehabilitation, and thanks to God, discharged from Hospice. Today,
she still uses a wheelchair, but has learned to walk with braces.
She laughs when I call her the ‘miracle child.’
Rita Mueller, RN
CHRISTUS Spohn Hospice Services
Corpus Christi, Texas