Family, hospital team up on autopsy in Reno end-of-life case
SCOTT SONNER & KEN RITTER
Jan. 06, 2016
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A private autopsy is planned at hospital expense to determine how a 20-year-old college freshman died while on life-support in the midst of a Nevada end-of-life court battle, the family's lawyer and medical center officials said Tuesday.
Aden Hailu, of Las Vegas, died Monday at Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center in Reno, having never awakened from anesthesia after surgery in April, said David O'Mara, the attorney representing Hailu's father and family.
Doctors at Saint Mary's first pronounced Hailu dead May 28, but her father, Fanuel Gebreyes, went to court to delay removing her from life-support.
O'Mara said hospital officials told Gebreyes on Monday that Hailu's heart stopped and two resuscitation attempts failed.
The lawyer said a medical post-mortem is expected to answer key questions about Hailu's treatment, and the cause and manner of death. He said the hospital and family were cooperating and Saint Mary's agreed to pay for the procedure.
"In this situation, we think an autopsy will be helpful to find out the true cause of death, and it may provide guidance about how these cases are handled in the future," he said.
The Washoe County coroner wasn't involved because the death was at the hospital and a public autopsy isn't required, said Lynn Sack, aide to Coroner Ellen Clark.
Saint Mary's spokeswoman Jamii Uboldi confirmed the hospital has agreed to pay for the private autopsy.
"Saint Mary's extends its heartfelt condolences to the family of Ms. Hailu," Uboldi said in a statement. The statement said officials were unable to comment further, citing patient privacy provisions of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Gebreyes was at the hospital when his daughter died, O'Mara said, and he noticed Hailu was having trouble breathing — even with a ventilator. But Gebreyes wasn't in the room when hospital staff later told him that monitors signaled Hailu's heart had stopped.
Hailu was a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno. Saint Mary's said in court filings that she suffered severe low blood pressure and a lack of oxygen to the brain during surgery April 1 to remove her appendix and explore the cause of abdominal pain.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in November that Washoe County Family Court Judge Frances Doherty was too quick to reject the family's bid to keep Hailu on a ventilator and intravenous fluids.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to Doherty for more hearings about what justices acknowledged was an "extraordinarily broad standard": Whether Saint Mary's met state law requiring a finding that irreversible cessation of brain stem functions met "accepted medical standards" that are "uniformly applied among the states" that enact the Uniform Determination of Death Act.
Nevada is among 37 states and the District of Columbia with laws based on the act, according to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Last week, the judge gave Saint Mary's the go-ahead to conduct brain wave tests that the hospital said would confirm doctors' determinations that Hailu was brain dead and wouldn't recover. But the judge indicated she wouldn't rule until on the question of life or death until at least Jan. 22
O'Mara said Tuesday it didn't appear new EEG tests had been performed but he had no more immediate information.
O'Mara earlier accused the hospital of wanting to end life-support to cut costs. He said Gebreyes felt that as long as there was a chance Hailu was alive, the hospital should treat her or find a place that would.
Attorneys representing the hospital argued it was unfair to force the hospital to treat Hailu indefinitely.
The hospital maintained that money wasn't the issue, and that administrators needed to respect doctors' medical judgment.
Saint Mary's doctors said three EEG tests conducted in April showed declining brain function, and no EEG tests were performed after that.
Gebreyes then refused to consent to new brain wave tests. He insisted that Hailu needed treatment, not tests, including thyroid medication and a tracheostomy so she could receive nutrition through her throat, not just intravenous fluids.
The judge told the father he could move Hailu to another facility if he wanted, but O'Mara has told AP the family couldn't immediately find a place to take her.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas.