Health & Medicine

Brain-dead toddler could return to U.S. next week after Central America treatment

Declared brain dead in mid-April, 2-year-old Israel Stinson, shown Thursday, May 12, 2016 was kept on a ventilator at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center for six weeks.
Declared brain dead in mid-April, 2-year-old Israel Stinson, shown Thursday, May 12, 2016 was kept on a ventilator at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center for six weeks. Life Legal Defense Foundation

A brain-dead Vacaville toddler, whose family waged a legal fight to keep him on life support, could be coming home after six weeks in a Central American hospital.

An air ambulance return trip to the U.S. was scheduled Friday morning for 2-year-old Israel Stinson, “but there were administrative hiccups with the (U.S.) hospital,” said Alexandra Snyder, an attorney with the Life Legal Justice Foundation, one of two nonprofit legal groups handling Israel’s case.

Snyder said it’s likely the boy and his parents will leave an unidentified Central America country early next week on a medical flight to an East Coast hospital, where he’ll be treated by a pediatric specialist for “technology-dependent” children, such as those on ventilators.

“Compared to the shape he was in (seven) weeks ago, he’s making steps that are completely inconsistent with death,” Snyder said. “He’s still in a coma. He’s showing signs of improvement ... all things that he wasn’t able to do two months ago.”

The toddler suffered cardiac arrest in a hospital following a severe asthma attack and has been on a ventilator since March. He was subsequently declared brain dead by three different doctors.

His attorneys are seeking a jury trial in the U.S. Eastern District of California federal court to overturn the child’s death certificate, which was signed April 14 at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center. In court documents, the attorneys state that the death certificate was issued prematurely, given his current condition.

Baby Israel “is very much alive,” said Matthew McReynolds, a senior staff attorney with the nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute, in an email. “We are moving forward with this case because California law does not provide adequate due process safeguards against deprivation of life. .... There are too many documented cases of people recovering after being declared brain dead for us to take this decision away from a family.”

According to the July 1 filing, the pending death certificate “causes actual injury,” including the loss of medical insurance coverage and government benefits for Israel and his family.

The filing adds: “In the future, he will be unable to enroll in school, meet the identity requirements for employment, marry, obtain a driver license, register to vote, qualify for a credit card, or secure a home loan if he remains officially deceased.”

After lengthy efforts to revive him following cardiac arrest, Israel was first declared brain-dead by a UC Davis Medical Center physician. At his parents’ request, he was transferred to Kaiser Permanente in Roseville for a second opinion.

His mother, Jonee Fonseca, fought Kaiser in court, contending that she was denied her constitutional right to determine her son’s medical care. She sought an emergency appeal to have him remain on a ventilator and receive nutrition through a feeding tube.

The case was pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when, on May 21, Stinson’s parents obtained last-minute passports and private funding to airlift him out of the country to a Central America hospital. (For security reasons, Israel’s parents and attorneys have declined to state which country.) There, his attorneys say, he has been given feeding and breathing tubes and is showing significant improvement.

“His prognosis is still not great,” said Snyder, although she said his pupils have responded to light and he now moves spontaneously, rather than twitching, reflexive spinal cord movements.

On his parents’ GoFundMe page, they state that Israel is gaining weight, responding to touch and sound and is taking breaths of his own “outside the ventilator settings.”

“We believe it is only a matter of time and patience before he opens his eyes,” the couple said. The site has raised more than $25,000, but his parents say additional funds are needed to return to the United States and cover his ongoing care.

Snyder said the plan is for Israel to spend a few weeks or months back East where his parents can be trained in how to care for him at home. Eventually, they hope to return to California.

“They’re still firmly fighting for their son,” said Snyder, who said she talks with Israel’s parents almost daily. “They’re more optimistic than ever.”

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck