Health & Medicine

Vacaville toddler declared brain-dead is back in U.S.; parents back in court

In a medical saga that has ping-ponged from Roseville to Guatemala and now Southern California, the case of a child declared brain-dead by two Sacramento-area hospitals is back in court.

On Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the Vacaville mother of 2-year-old Israel Stinson won a temporary restraining order against Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, blocking the hospital from removing her son’s ventilator, according to her attorney.

“It’s a reprieve,” said attorney Alexandra Snyder, adding that the hospital also is required to allow an independent doctor to conduct a medical evaluation of Israel, who suffered severe brain damage as a result of cardiac arrest in April at UC Davis Medical Center.

“We’ve asked for this for a long time,” said Snyder. “I’m hoping it’ll confirm that he does have brain activity.”

Children’s Hospital officials declined to discuss the case.

“At this time, we are unable to provide comment,” said hospital spokesman Lorenzo Benet.

Israel’s mother, Jonee Fonseca, 23, a pharmacy technician, has fought for the right to make her son’s medical choices since he was declared clinically brain-dead last spring by three doctors at UC Davis and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Roseville. The doctors followed a nationally recognized set of diagnostic tests, and sought to take Israel off life support.

Instead, his parents sued, launching what’s become a months-long legal battle stretching across multiple courtrooms, pitting parental rights against established medical decision-making. They have been backed by two nonprofit legal groups that support religious and parental rights.

Ultimately, “We want to have (Israel) transferred to home care so I can take care of him,” Fonseca said Thursday.

In late May, just days before a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deadline to prove their legal case or have Israel removed from life support, the family abruptly departed for Central America to seek treatment.

Aided by donated funds, they were flown by medical ambulance to Guatemala, where doctors installed a breathing tube in Israel’s throat and a feeding tube in his stomach. In Guatemala, three doctors, including a pediatric neurologist, declared that the boy was not brain-dead, partly based on an EEG, according to Israel’s parents and attorneys.

On Aug. 7, the family returned to the United States and Israel was admitted to Children’s Hospital. It’s unclear under what circumstances Children’s Hospital agreed to accept him. The child’s death certificate is pending but was never signed by his parents.

Medical experts say it’s extremely unlikely he will ever open his eyes or regain brain function. But his parents and attorneys say they’re not giving up.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” said the child’s father, Nate Stinson. “We’re trying to do anything and everything we can to save our son.”

It’s also unclear who would pay for Israel’s extended care, should his parents be successful in bringing him home or getting him into a long-term care facility.

There’s nothing that prevents parents from “supporting a corpse on a ventilator and artificial feeding. But the problem is, who pays for it?” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics for New York University School of Medicine, who has written extensively on brain-death diagnoses. “I don’t believe the government or any public program or Medi-Cal should pay for that care. You don’t want public money, which is scarce enough for living children, to be diverted to pay for this. … Even if you have great empathy for the parents’ loss, which I do.”

Israel’s medical odyssey began April 1, when he was brought to a Mercy Hospital emergency room with a severe respiratory attack related to asthma. Transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, he suffered cardiac arrest and underwent about 40 minutes of CPR before a doctor declared him brain-dead.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968

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