Bobby Reyes, a 14-year-old Monroe County boy, died officially about 3 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after doctors turned off a breathing support machine that he’d been on for three weeks.
“He’s gone,” said Bill Amadeo, an attorney for the family who was frantically trying to buy more time for the boy through a court appeal. “We brought in the family dog and the priest.”
Earlier in the day, a judge in Ann Arbor cleared the way for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to conduct a second test to confirm the condition of a 14-year-old boy whom it ruled brain dead almost three weeks ago. A second test was needed under hospital protocols before life support could be withdrawn.
“Our health care team at Michigan Medicine extends our deepest condolences to the family of Bobby Reyes in this heartbreaking situation,” hospital spokeswoman Mary Masson said in a statement. “A second brain death examination was conducted late this morning, and Bobby was pronounced dead. Mechanical ventilation was discontinued after the family gathered in the patient’s room.”
Bobby’s family had sought to delay the second test.
“We’re not agreeing to it because we know he’s not brain dead,” Reyes’ mother, Sarah Jones, said through tears after a court hearing Tuesday morning.
At the hearing, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge David Swartz said “my hands are tied” when it came to granting a request from Reyes’ family. As attorneys for both sides noted in their arguments, Swartz has no jurisdiction in the case.
The family was suing Mott Hospital, part of the University of Michigan, which is considered part of state government. Lawsuits against the state must be filed in the Court of Claims.
“I do not think a procedural error should be the reason this young man does not have a chance at life,” said William Amadeo, a lawyer for Reyes’ family, who said later he was preparing an immediate appeal in the Court of Claims. “I negotiated in good faith and while there was an error by the initial attorney, I’m doing everything in my power to give this child a chance, and if the Court of Claims rules against us that’s fine, but we should have that opportunity. ”
Michael Huget, an attorney for the hospital, said the court has no jurisdiction and the family has had three weeks to file with the Court of Claims but hasn’t done so.
‘Totally without power’
Amadeo said the matter hadn’t been filed in the Court of Claims because he’s been in negotiations with the hospital trying to find another facility to take over Bobby’s care.
Swartz agreed with Huget.
“The court understands the magnitude of the question involved here. It is certainly very sympathetic to the all of the concerns and the heartbreak of the petitioner,” Swartz said. “But if the court doesn’t have jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has made it clear that I have no authority to do anything. I cannot order a stay as has been requested. I am totally without the power to do so.”
Swartz dismissed the case.
Court pleadings say that Bobby suffered a severe asthma attack Sept. 22 and was airlifted to C.S. Mott.
Two days later, doctors there conducted a brain death examination and found no evidence of electrical activity in his brain stem. A separate blood flow test found no blood flowing to the boy’s brain.
Doctors at the hospital said protocols require a second such test to confirm the diagnosis, but Bobby’s parents, Sarah Jones and Jose Reyes, have fought to prevent the second test, arguing their son is still alive and deserves a chance to live.
“Don’t let them take our son before they gave him a chance,” the family wrote in a Facebook post. “All we’re asking for is a little bit of time.”
Other doctors held out hope
The family said other doctors believe there is still hope for Bobby, including Richard P. Bonfiglio, who practices in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, and attended the hearing.
Bonfiglio, a graduate of U-M’s medical school, told the Free Press that he reviewed Bobby’s charts and visited the boy in the hospital but was not permitted to conduct a formal examination because he lacks admitting privileges at the hospital.
Bonfiglio wouldn’t discuss specifics of what he saw about Bobby’s condition, but when asked if he saw reasons for the family to hope he was emphatic.
“Absolutely, yes,” he said. “The problem is the whole determination of brain death is not a precise science at this point, so when you’re dealing with this kind of situation, I would rather err on the side of giving him a chance than on terminating things.”
The appeal on Facebook has been followed by thousands of a people and attracted the attention of Paul Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, a brain-injured Florida woman who died in 2005 after her feeding tube was removed.
Bobby Schindler, brother of Terry Schiavo and pro-life activist, sits in the courtroom during the Reyes vs. University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s hospital on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.
Bobby Schindler, brother of Terry Schiavo and pro-life activist, sits in the courtroom during the Reyes vs. University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s hospital on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell)
Her case sparked an intense court battle over the right to die and who decides for a person who is incapacitated. Her husband, Michael, fought to have the tube removed, while Schindler and other relatives wanted it continued.
Schindler now lives in Cincinnati and drove to Michigan Monday to meet with the family and visit Bobby in his hospital bed. Schindler said that he wasn’t familiar with all the nuances of the case but wanted to support the family.
“Obviously, it was a disappointing decision by the judge,” Schindler said after the hearing. “We were invited by the family, we don’t impose ourselves. We’re here and we do serve as advocates and we use the resources we have to try and help the family and in this case, find a facility.”
Parents ‘just don’t trust’ finding
Rev. Timothy Nelson, a Catholic priest from Jackson, said he’s counseled Bobby’s parents and attended the hearing to support them.
“You know, you need to trust your physicians, and from what Jose told me, the attitude and the approach that the physicians had from the very beginning was not one that developed a sense of rapport, understanding, compassion and trust. So, that was on your mind from the beginning and when they come with this report of brain dead, they just don’t trust it.”
The hospital said in a statement Monday that it needed to act.
“The present situation of continuing medical interventions is inappropriate if Bobby has suffered brain death and violates the professional integrity of Michigan Medicine’s clinicians,” the statement said. “His caregivers at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital have diligently worked with the family to help arrange to transfer Bobby to another facility, but every facility contacted has declined to take on Bobby’s care. Our team at Michigan Medicine sympathizes with the Reyes family and is committed to providing support in this difficult time.”
Others who followed the case online also attended the hearing.
“If it were my son, I’d want the support,” said Jessica Hayes, 34, of Belleville, who learned about the case online and drove with her husband, Paul, to attend the court hearing in the case. “We found out about it on Facebook and we’ve been following it. There are a lot of people at our church who are praying for them.”
Bobby’s family has been trying to find another hospital to agree to take over his care, but so far they haven’t found one to commit.
Lawyers for Mott hospital expressed their sympathy for the family, saying they faced an “unfathomable heartbreak,” and recognizing why they wouldn’t want their worst fears confirmed. But they argued the hospital is required to conduct the second test.
“The University of Michigan’s Pediatric Ethics Committee has opined that block further examination of Bobby is ethically impermissible and prevents Bobby’s primary care team from delivering medically appropriate care to Bobby,” the lawyers wrote in court pleadings. “Medically appropriate care for Bobby depends on an accurate diagnosis of his condition, and that accurate diagnosis hinges on the results of a second brain death examination.”