Woman Who Gave Birth at Arizona Nursing Facility Is 'Not in a Coma,' Says Family
The patient's family says they've noticed what appear to be physical responses from her in their presence
The family of an Arizona woman who gave birth last month in a long-term care facility issued a statement saying she is “not in a coma,” despite assertions by police she’s in a vegetative state and medical records stating she has been unresponsive for decades.
“The victim’s parents would like to make clear that she is not in a coma,” the family of the 29-year-old Native American woman said in a statement through their attorney.
“She has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood,” says the statement obtained by PEOPLE. “She does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck. Their daughter responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures.”
“The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities,” the statement continues. “She has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music, and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family.”
Medical records earlier obtained by PEOPLE state the woman — a resident of the Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix since she was a toddler who unexpectedly gave birth to a boy in Dec. 29 — “lacks sufficient understanding and mental capacity to make decisions or give consents for her medical, placement or financial estate” and suffers from quadriplegia, recurrent pneumonia and a seizure disorder.
Her family’s attorney previously portrayed the woman as someone “in a completely vulnerable state,” while a statement confirming the woman as a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe described her as “in a persistent vegetative state and coma.”
Phoenix police sergeant Tommy Thompson described her in a press conference and to PEOPLE as being “in a vegetative state.”
Dr. Mark Ashley, CEO and founder of the California-based Centre for Neuro Skills, previously told PEOPLE that a “vegetative state” occurs when a person does not emerge from a coma into a consciousness.
Ashley, who sits on the board of the Brain Injury Association of America, said a patient’s physical movements do not necessarily reflect awareness of her environment or others nearby. The woman’s attorney’s descriptions of her movement and reactions largely match those of similar patients as described by Ashley, who is not involved in the Arizona case.
“The vegetative state can arise from any number of causes of injury to the brain,” he says. “Typically an individual with a severe brain injury would first be described as comatose. They may emerge from coma to conscious state, but individuals who do not, for whom the unconscious state persists, may lighten into what is referred to as a vegetative state.”
“They may open their eyes and close their eyes in a return to a sleep-awake cycle,” he says. “They may cry or they may smile or make other facial expressions, but there’s no apparent causation. … It’s not tied to the specific events in their environment. They are not reproducible; they occur somewhat randomly. There’s no instruction-following. They may actually seem to move their eyes towards a person or objects, but again, the problem is whether it is intentional, volitional or reproducible. There’s essentially no purposeful movement.”
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The exact cause of the woman’s condition has not been revealed. The records obtained by PEOPLE show that she’s lived at the Phoenix facility since the age of 2 or 3, and received at least monthly visits in recent years by her mother, who is her court-appointed guardian.
The revelation of the child’s birth — which Thompson said “took everyone [at the facility] by surprise” — has been followed by the resignation of Hacienda HealthCare’s CEO, the suspension of one doctor who oversaw the patient’s care and the resignation of another, and the announcement of an internal review by the former Maricopa County Attorney, Rick Romley, to parallel the police investigation.
The medical records reveal that the patient’s last doctor’s examination took place more than eight months prior to the birth.
PEOPLE was unable to reach the doctor who performed that examination, but that doctor has been suspended.