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Texas hospital tries to pull plug on comatose 12-year-old 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, January 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A 12-year-old boy in Corpus Christi, Texas, is facing death this weekend as hospital officials fight to remove him from the ventilator helping him breathe – over the objections of his parents, and despite the fact that another hospital has already agreed to allow a transfer in order to give him lifesaving care.

In a case that echoes last year’s contentious legal battle over the fate of Jahi McMath – a 13-year-old declared legally dead by hospital and government officials despite having a heartbeat – young Joey Cronin’s fate is in the hands of hospital officials who insist that he is “brain dead,” although he showed signs of brain activity during the test they ran in a failed attempt to prove it. 

Now, the hospital wants to run additional tests – including a risky ‘apnea test’ that some experts say can actually induce brain death in an otherwise stabilized patient.  If the hospital is successful in declaring him “brain dead,” the county will issue a death certificate, and he will be removed from life support.  All this, despite the fact that a leading neurologist has examined Joey’s EEGs and said there is still hope for recovery, and a hospital in Houston has agreed to treat him.

Joey’s father, George, told LifeSiteNews in an emotional interview Friday that the eldest of his four children – a 6th grade honor-roll student, avid Minecraft fan, and talented artist – suffered a severe asthma attack on January 14.  Thinking Joey was having an anaphylactic reaction, his parents injected him with an epi-pen and called 911.  He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and stabilized before being transferred to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, where he went into cardiac arrest.  Doctors there were able to revive him, but they told the family not to get their hopes up.  They predicted Joey’s chances of long-term survival were slim.

“They told us a lot of things that night, you know, that he was not going to be able to make it through this event.  They were very negative,” Cronin told LifeSiteNews. “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].”

But Joey proved to be a fighter.   “Over the next four or five days, he continued to improve,” said Cronin.  “He actually seemed to be making some progress toward recovery.  He was moving; he was opening his eyes.”  During a bedside test ordered by the hospital to test his brain function, medical staff squirted water into Joey’s ear canal with a syringe, and he flinched, a clear response to stimulus.

Joey’s neurologist was encouraged by his progress, and told the family that his responsiveness was “a very positive sign.”  He said that while Joey’s reactions were slow, the delay could be easily explained by the high doses of medication he was receiving.

The other physicians at Driscoll “were very surprised, but they still remained negative,” Cronin said.  Only the neurologist continued to offer them hope that their son might be all right.

Up until last Thursday, Joey continued showing signs of awareness and physical response.  But then, suddenly, “things started to go downhill very fast,” Cronin said.

“We don’t know if they made a mistake or anything; we don’t know what happened,” Cronin told LifeSiteNews through tears.  “All we know is that one day he was – you know, he would grab your hand, you know, and the next day he wouldn’t.”

Now, the hospital is pushing for a gamma flow test – an imaging-based test in which a radioactive fluid is injected into the blood vessels that feed the brain oxygen and nutrients.  The radioactive fluid lights up on screen, giving doctors an idea of whether blood flow to the brain is adequate, compromised, or absent.  However, Joey has some swelling on the brain, which can influence the results of the test in a negative way.

“We had a second doctor come in who said, ‘You know, his brain is swollen,’” Cronin said.  “He said, ‘We can’t do a gamma flow test. … It would be stupid to do a gamma flow test because it’s contraindicative.  The blood won’t flow into the brain because it’s swollen.’”

Dr. Paul Byrne, a pediatric neurologist and one of the leading critics of so-called “brain death,” told blogger Charlie Johnston that the gamma flow test has a high degree of inaccuracy and is often used to justify a call of brain death in ambiguous circumstances. 

But George Cronin is more concerned that the test itself could kill his son, as one of the components is derived from shellfish, to which many members of the Cronin family are severely allergic.  Because no one is sure what set off Joey’s initial asthma attack, Cronin is uncomfortable with injecting a likely allergen into his son’s bloodstream.  He said he also “has issues” with the idea of flooding his child’s brain with a radioactive isotope.

Driscoll had originally scheduled the gamma flow test for 8am Friday morning, but Cronin withdrew consent for the procedure under guidance from Houston-based attorney Robert Painter, and the hospital agreed to delay it “temporarily.”  Now, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom have stepped in to offer Cronin additional help in protecting his son’s right to life.

The ultimate goal?  Force Driscoll Children’s Hospital to help keep Joey alive until he can be safely transferred to a hospital with doctors who are willing to treat him.

“There is a hospital in Houston that [said] they would accept him,” Cronin told LifeSiteNews.  “We’ve been working with the insurance company to get all the information expedited to make that happen.  But if [Driscoll officials] pronounce him dead, that’s not going to happen.”

The Cronins are asking that concerned observers contact Driscoll Children’s and ask that the hospital do everything they can to give Joey more time. The family is also asking for people outside the state of Texas to reach out if they know of a hospital that will continue to treat Joey even if his brain activity is minimal. (Readers can do so by contacting the author of this news report.)

“The law here [in Texas] says that brain death is death,” said Cronin.  “I know there are other states that don’t have that stipulation.”

Asked to describe his son before the asthma attack, Cronin became emotional.  “He’s twelve,” he said quietly, fighting back tears.  “He’s very smart.  He’s an honor roll student, has been all his life.” 

“He loves to draw,” Cronin added. “He’s very, very good at it; he’s got some excellent cartoons.  I’m in my 40s and I couldn’t draw like him.  He’s really fantastic.”

Cronin said Joey runs his own Youtube channel where he posts walkthroughs for his favorite video games, especially Minecraft.  “He loves Minecraft, Five Nights at Freddy’s … you know, goofy little video games,” Cronin said. 

Although Joey had to move to a new school in November – a potentially difficult transition for any tween – Joey took it in stride, quickly becoming a favorite among his new classmates.  “Joey has love for everyone,” Cronin said.  “The wall here [in the hospital] is plastered with cards from kids in his class.  … The teacher told me he doesn’t have an enemy in the whole school.” 

Driscoll Children’s Hospital can be reached at 361-694-5000 (main switchboard) or 361-694-5662 (Public Affairs).

The Cronins are planning to start a fundraising account for the anticipated legal and medical expenses related to Joey’s care.  LifeSiteNews will share that information with our readers as it becomes available.

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