With pregnant wife unresponsive on life support, husband hopes to fulfill her wishes

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by JOBIN PANICKER

WFAA

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 4:52 PM

FORT WORTH -- Erick Munoz sat quietly as he thumbed through several photos of his family.

They are reminders of good times, like the birth of their son, Mateo. It's a light moment during what has been a very trying and dark time for the Munoz family.

"As the days have gone by, the images are becoming more permanent in my head," Erick said.

Erick is talking about the moment he saw his wife, Marlise, unconscious on the living room floor at around 2 a.m. Nov. 26. As a paramedic, Erick rushed in to do CPR and later called 911.

Marlise Munoz, who was 14 weeks pregnant at the time, was taken to JPS in Fort Worth. Family members say doctors suspected she suffered a pulmonary embolism, but didn't know with complete certainty.

"You just never think it's going to be you," Erick said.

Marlise has been on life support since that day in November. Erick tells News 8 she has not regained consciousness and is "simply a shell." Tests are done daily on the fetus, and results show a normal heart beat.

Both Marlise and Erick are paramedics in the Tarrant County area, and both have had serious conversations about what to do if the worst happens. Marlise's mother told News 8 that conversation started when Marlise lost her brother tragically four years ago.

"We knew what her wishes were," Erick said. His wife told him she never wanted to be kept alive by machine.

Marlise was taken to the emergency room at JPS in the early morning of Nov. 26. Later in the day, the family was informed by doctors that they would provide any life-saving measures because she was pregnant. The family was told the hospital was taking that measure because of state law in Texas' Health and Safety Code.

"Section 166.049 Pregnant Patients. A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient," the code reads.

Even more, in a health directive form found under the Health and Safety Code, it reads, "I understand under Texas law this directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant."

Erick said he did not officially sign a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form, but said it was a topic that was "talked about" and mutually agreed upon. However, even with a signed DNR form, the statute to protect the pregnancy would take priority.

Officials at JPS could not speak directly to the Munoz' case, but did respond in a broad sense.

"We have families every day that face really difficult decisions when it comes to the care of their loved ones and we would have the same response. We follow the law," said J.R. Labbe with JPS.

"I don't agree with this law... I don't," Erick said.

He said this law keeps him from honoring his promise to Marlise.

"It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," he said.

Attorneys said Marlise’s family could try to go to court to get an injunction or restraining order to allow her wishes to be carried out. But most say it would be difficult to find a Texas judge to grant it. They say it’s unlikely a mother’s wishes would be allowed to override a child’s potential.

Erick said the testing of the fetus is so limited it's hard to tell if the fetus is viable. He said he does not expect a lot of people to side with him on this.

He also said he doesn't want to get into a long, drawn-out fight over pro-life and pro-choice.

"They don't know how long the baby was without nutrients and oxygen," Erick said. "But I'm aware what challenges I might face ahead."

The next series of tests of the fetus will be at 24 weeks, which is mid-February. Family members tell News 8 doctors may know then when the fetus can be removed.

Erick said doctors have even discussed taking the fetus to full term.

Those wishing to help the family financially may do so by making a donation to Erick & Mateo Munoz at Wells Fargo Bank or make a check out to "CPFFA 4182" and mail or drop it off at 201 E. Main St., Crowley, TX, 76036.

 

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