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Texas boy breathing on his own after hospital tried to have him declared ‘brain dead’ against parents’ wishes

Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten
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12-year-old Joey Cronin Courtesy of George Cronin

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX, February 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A 12-year-old Texas boy who slipped into a coma after suffering a severe asthma attack has begun breathing on his own – just hours after hospital officials fought to take him off life support because they believed he was legally “brain dead.”  Now, his family has obtained a court order requiring the hospital to provide nourishment to the boy via a feeding tube, and hope to have him transferred to another facility within the week.

Joey Cronin has been at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi since January 14, when he suffered cardiac arrest as a result of an asthma attack.  In an interview last week with LifeSiteNews, Joey’s father George Cronin said that hospital staff were pessimistic about his chances of recovery from the very start, even though early on, Joey was showing signs of awareness – opening his eyes, gripping his parents’ hands, and responding to external stimuli.

“They were very negative,” Cronin told LifeSiteNews last week.  “On the night he came in, they told me it could be a matter of hours before they would have to [remove Joey from life support].”  However, the testing the hospital did to prove Joey was brain dead showed he was responsive, so they were forced to honor the Cronins’ wishes to keep the boy on his ventilator.  But they refused to install a feeding tube so that he could receive nutrition.

When Joey slipped into a coma several days later, the hospital became more aggressive in its push to have the boy declared brain dead – the legal threshold for issuing a death certificate in Texas.  With a death certificate, the hospital could remove Joey from life support against his parents’ wishes.  Under advice from a local attorney, the Cronins refused to give consent for any further testing. They then sought help from Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal defense group.  Their only goal was to force the hospital to keep Joey alive until he could be transferred safely to another hospital – one that would give him lifesaving treatment without giving up on him. 

At least one facility in Houston had already agreed to take Joey in, and another in New Jersey was open to the possibility.  But the biggest question in the Cronins’ mind was whether Driscoll Children’s would give Joey the care he needed to stay strong enough for transfer.  They reached out via news and social media, begging people to contact the hospital to urge them not to give up on Joey’s care.

Late last Friday, attorneys with ADF successfully obtained a court order forcing the hospital to provide a feeding tube and nutrition for Joey. 

The decision came just in time: Within hours, the boy surprised everyone by chewing on his ventilator tube – a clear sign of life.  The hospital immediately gave him a tracheostomy so that he could breathe on his own without damaging his throat.  Not long after that, he was wiggling his toes. 

Now, his parents hope that he will be transferred to another facility by midweek.

“They said he’s pretty much ready any day now,” Cronin told LifeSiteNews by telephone Monday.  “So we’re hoping it’s not going to be very much longer.”

The Cronins have health insurance, but it’s unclear how much of Joey’s care – especially his transfer – will be covered by their policy.  Meanwhile, George Cronin has had to take an unpaid leave of absence from his job in order to be at Joey’s bedside.  The family is asking for donations to be sent via PayPal to [email protected]

They are also asking that people with awareness of facilities outside of Texas that may be able to treat Joey reach out to them (interested parties can do so by contacting the author of this article at [email protected]) because they would prefer to have their son cared for in a state that does not define brain death as legal death.

Since Joey’s turnaround, George Cronin reports that Driscoll Children’s has become much more supportive regarding his care.  “Everything’s fine; they’re cooperating with us now,” Cronin told LifeSiteNews.  “We don’t want to paint them as the bad guys.”

Blogger Charlie Johnston, who first brought LifeSiteNews’ attention to the case, said Driscoll Children’s initial insistence upon pushing for a diagnosis of brain death is less an indictment of the hospital itself than of the culture in which it operates.

“I think an important thing to remember is that Driscoll was not the cause of this situation, but is instead a symptom of where we have arrived,” Johnston wrote in an update Saturday. “They exercised a lot of what are now standard medical protocols. Alas, we really have to take a hard look at whether those protocols are genuinely giving medical professionals information, or whether they are just props to justify premature declarations of death.”

“Certainly, when Joey started showing important and genuine signs of independent life … the people at the hospital entirely changed their outlook to one of helping treat the boy,” Johnston added. “This could have happened at almost any hospital in America today except some religiously affiliated ones that actually take that religious affiliation seriously.”

“As the comic character, Pogo, once famously said, ‘We have met the enemy – and he is us,’” Johnston added. “It is a change of heart in our culture and faith that is necessary to put an end to the sort of assumptions that make crises like these possible.”

Johnston encouraged those who contacted the hospital last week to contact them again to thank them for taking good care of Joey since the court stepped in.

“It would not hurt at all – and might be a great help – for all those who called the hospital before to call them now,” Johnston said. “Tell them you know what an intense week it has been and thank them for giving such effective care after having had such a tense week.”

Driscoll Children’s Hospital can be reached at (361) 694-5000.

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