RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Nevada hospital where a college student has been on life support since doctors declared her brain dead more than six months ago wants a judge to order new tests — over the objections of her father, who insists she’s alive and doesn’t want to pull the plug.
The case returns to Washoe County District Court on Wednesday after the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a family court judge who decided in July that Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno could disconnect Aden Hailu from a ventilator and IV tube.
In unanimously granting Hailu’s father’s appeal, the high court on Nov. 16 directed Judge Frances Doherty to hold hearings on whether American Association of Neurology brain death guidelines cited by hospital doctors conform with Nevada’s Determination of Death Act and effectively determine whether she is legally dead or alive.
“Aden is alive, under both the AAN guidelines and Nevada state law,” said David O’Mara, the lawyer representing Fanuel Gebreyes, the Las Vegas father of the 20-year-old University of Nevada, Reno, freshman.
Hailu was hospitalized April 1 after complaining of stomach pain. She suffered severe low blood pressure and a lack of oxygen to the brain during surgery to remove her appendix and explore the cause of abdominal pain, and she never awoke from anesthesia, according to court documents.
Electroencephalogram, or EEG, tests conducted in early April showed brain function. But hospital doctors concluded May 28 that Hailu couldn’t breathe on her own without a ventilator, and they declared her brain dead, the documents said.
“It was Saint Mary’s administrators and lawyers who determined Aden’s death,” O’Mara said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “We should err on the side that this person is alive.”
The hospital had agreed to continue life support pending an appeal of Doherty’s refusal to grant a temporary injunction sought be Hailu’s father.
William Peterson, lead lawyer for the hospital and its parent Prime Healthcare Services, filed documents Nov. 25 asking Doherty to force the father to show why he should not be required to consent to another EEG.
The hospital attorney accused Gebreyes of trying “to avoid a prompt and timely testing of brain functions so as to delay a prompt and timely determination of death.”
Peterson said Gebreyes has insisted instead that his daughter be given thyroid medication and a tracheostomy so she can receive nutrition through her throat, not just fluids through an IV.
Gebreyes has declined to comment ahead of Wednesday’s status hearing.
“Aden needs treatment, not tests of her brain,” he wrote in a Nov. 20 letter to the hospital that he demanded be attached to her patient chart. “The Nevada Supreme Court ruled … that Aden Hailu is alive.”
O’Mara said in a Nov. 23 letter to the hospital that until Hailu is “given the opportunity to begin the healing process with a minimum of a tracheostomy, proper nutrition and thyroid medication, Saint Mary’s does not have consent to perform any EEG or brain vascular flow studies.”
“Prior to brain death even being determined, the doctor had recommended a tracheostomy,” O’Mara told the Associated Press. “That was not done because the hospital administrator and attorney already had gotten involved in the case. … For almost eight months, she has had a tube in her throat. She needs that tracheostomy immediately.”
Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report
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