It was supposed to be a day of joy for the Francois family. Twenty-six-year-old Caroline was giving birth to her third child at a local hospital.
The baby was born fine, but the next day things went terribly wrong for the young mother. "Her blood pressure remained high and continued to remain high," said the family's attorney, Loreen Kreizinger. "As a result of her uncontrolled hypertension, she had a bleed to the brain, which happened the next day after the baby was born."
Caroline was put on life support. "It's terrible," said Kreizinger. "It's probably one of the worst things I've personally ever experienced as an attorney, and I am also a nurse."
According to the lawsuit, after Caroline was put on life support, the local hospital called the University of Miami organ donor program. An employee of the donor program went to the hospital and tried to meet with the family. "Mr. Francois never spoke with them and never gave consent," said the family's attorney.
But despite that, the lawsuit against the University of Miami claims that same employee, who is not a medical doctor wrote physician's orders in Caroline's chart which read: "Patient pronounced brain dead at 16:16 hours," and, "Please discontinue all treatments including the ventilator."
"We have evidence that he physically entered the room and actually turned off the ventilator," said the lawyer.
Court testimony supports that shocking allegation. Caroline's respiratory therapist was asked in a deposition, "Who physically took Caroline off the ventilator?" The therapist replied, "That's a gentleman from organ procurement."
In Caroline's chart, her nurse wrote the employee from UM "turned off vent," referring to the ventilator.
No one is saying why this employee might have pulled the plug, but Caroline's doctor is very clear. In testimony, her doctor was asked, "Did you yourself at anytime make an assessment that Caroline was brain dead?" The answer: "No."
"We have evidence that Caroline began to breathe on her own, both by a computerized respiratory printout and by handwritten notes of the respiratory therapist," said Kreizinger.
Asked if she was implying that Caroline was breathing on her own and still taken off life support, the family's attorney replied, "That's right. That's what we're saying here."
The University of Miami denies the allegations in the lawsuit, saying, "This defendant specifically denies that it, or anyone for whom it could be held legally responsible, caused or contributed to Caroline Francois's death."
"It certainly is the University of Miami's position that there were four determinations of brain death prior to disconnection from ventilator," said University of Miami attorney Helenemarie Blake. "There is an issue of fact as to who disconnected the ventilator, if at all."
In court Thursday, University of Miami attorneys tried to get the judge to strike Caroline's nurse from the witness list. That nurse allegedly witnessed who turned off the ventilator. The attorneys say they have not been able to locate that nurse to depose him. The judge has denied that request.
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