Isaiah James May was born a little after 5 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2009, and was scheduled to die this past week – on Wednesday, Jan. 20 – just short of his three-month birthday.
That was the day chosen by Canada’s publicly funded, government health service as the deadline for Isaiah to recover from his traumatic birth or be taken off life-support.
“There is no hope of recovery for Isaiah,” reads a letter from Alberta Health Services delivered to Isaiah’s parents and dated one week before the health care system intended to pull the plug on the baby it has determined irreparably brain damaged.
“Your treating physicians regretfully have come to the conclusion that withdrawal of active treatment is medically reasonable, ethically responsible and appropriate,” the letter states. “We must put the interests of your son foremost, and it is in his best interests to discontinue mechanical ventilation support.”
Parents Isaac and Rebecka May, however, immediately appealed to the courts for more time, encouraged by signs that their boy was growing and moving, pointing to instance after instance where Isaiah had already proven the doctors wrong.
“He is doing everything they said that he would not do. Every day he does something new. So that helps us to fight,” the baby’s 23-year-old mother told CBC News. “His eyes dilate. He opens his eyes. He moves his limbs. He’s growing. He’s gaining weight. He’s living. They told us he would never do any of that.”
Then, the day before the hospital planned to allow Isaiah to die, a judge granted Isaiah a few more days of life.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Michelle Crighton gave Isaiah’s parents one week, until Jan. 27, to find an independent expert – to determine if or when the baby should be taken off life-support.
Isaiah was born after a difficult 40 hours of labor, but the umbilical cord had wrapped itself around the baby’s neck and deprived the newborn of oxygen. Isaiah was immediately taken by air ambulance to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, where he has survived with the help of a ventilator and feedings through an IV tube.
But through his three months of care, his doctors believe Isaiah has suffered irreversible brain damage and have offered his young parents no hope for the boy’s recovery.
After Isaac and Rebecka May received the letter informing them life-support would be terminated on their son, they turned to the courts, seeking a 90-day window for continued observation of the progress they believe their son is making in spite of the doctor’s predictions.
According to court documents reported by the Calgary Herald, the baby’s mother claims doctors said Isaiah wouldn’t live past three days, wouldn’t grow, wouldn’t be able to urinate or move. May says the doctors told her brain death would cause Isaiah’s head to shrink and his brain to turn to “mush.”
Instead, she says, not only has Isaiah’s head grown, but he has also gained more than three pounds, wets his diaper, moves his hands, feet and arms and opens his eyes every day, according to court documents.
“It’s pretty cool seeing little changes every day,” his 22-year-old father told the Herald. “Of course, it’s not easy, being there watching him on the bed like that, but we’re just doing everything we can right now to know we’ve done everything we can do.”
The couple’s attorney told Edmonton’s CTV News, “The family has asked for 90 days in order to see how the child will develop, if the child will grow, if there’s any improvement in the child’s condition.”
Brent Windwick, the lawyer representing Alberta Health Services and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, has asked the court to allow no more than 30 days before making its decision.
Alberta Health Services, in turn, released a statement: “The medical and ethical discussions for this family and care providers are the most difficult imaginable. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the family. Our medical, nursing and allied health teams have and will continue to support this family in every way possible. It is appropriate to turn now to the courts for direction.”
The court, however, granted the family only seven days to find an independent expert to evaluate their son and determine a future course of action.
Reported friends of the family have established a Facebook page for prayers and support for the May family. The page includes photos and videos of Isaiah, telephone numbers for complaints registered to Alberta Health Services, a mailing address for the Mays, who are currently staying at an Edmonton Ronald McDonald House, and links for financial donations through PayPal.