Comatose girl breathing without ventilator, more tests planned
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – After winning a legal battle to remove a severely beaten and comatose 11-year-old from life support, state officials are now looking closely for signs of improvement from the girl, who is breathing on her own.Haleigh Poutre was weaned off a ventilator over the past week. But her medical condition remains uncertain, and state officials are trying to determine the exact nature of her condition – and whether it warrants proceeding with a court-won right to remove her from life support.”She can intake air, but she can’t swallow on her own and her saliva needs to be suctioned constantly, almost every hour,” said Denise Monteiro, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services.Haleigh has been in DSS custody since she was hospitalized in September with a badly damaged brain stem that authorities say resulted from abuse. Thinking that she was in a permanent vegetative condition, the state went to court to seek permission to remove her from life support – a move her stepfather, one of two family members accused of beating her, fought.DSS officials first reported changes in Haleigh’s condition on Wednesday – a day after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the case – but would not specify what she responded to or what the responses meant.Monteiro said the state now has no immediate plans to remove her feeding tube, and more medical tests were to be performed Thursday.”They haven’t said much on what we could expect,” said Allison Avrett, Haleigh’s biological mother. “This could be as good as it gets. But they never expected this.”Haleigh was adopted in 2001 by Avrett’s sister, Holli Strickland, when Avrett decided she could not care for her daughter. Strickland was charged with beating Haleigh after the girl was hospitalized in September, but died about two weeks later along with her grandmother in what authorities say was either a murder-suicide or double-suicide.Haleigh’s stepfather, Jason Strickland, also was charged with assault and could face a murder charge if she dies. He has fought to keep her on life support, but this week’s high court ruling said he has no say in her medical care.The justices also denied a request by Strickland’s lawyers to disclose court documents related to Haleigh’s life support case. The Republican newspaper of Springfield filed a motion with the high court on Jan. 6 seeking to unseal the legal brief filed in the case by DSS.Strickland can try to bring his case to federal court, but his lawyers say they’re waiting for more information on Haleigh’s condition before they decide how to proceed.”If DSS isn’t going to do anything, then it may not be necessary for us to do anything,” said attorney John Egan.Vail, Colorado
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