Federal court may decide if teen stays on life support

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — The fate of a comatose Lathrup Village teen may ultimately be decided in federal court following actions Friday.

Attorneys for 16-year-old Titus Cromer Jr. obtained an emergency temporary restraining order Friday to stop Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak from taking Cromer off of life-support machines until the matter has a full hearing later this month.

A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order Friday that prevents Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak from disconnecting life support for Titus Cromer.

The hospital determined three weeks ago Cromer was “brain dead,” a finding disputed by his family and outside doctors.

The restraining order, which requires Beaumont to provide continuing care for Cromer, was obtained following a telephone conference between U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts and lawyers for Cromer and the hospital.

“We are grateful at Judge Victoria Roberts listening to us today and look forward to being back in court later this month before Judge (Mark) Goldsmith,” said Cromer’s attorney James B. Rasor. “It is a relief (because) the restraining order we had from Oakland Circuit was due to expire at noon next Tuesday. At that point, the hospital could have pulled the plug on him. They can’t do that now.”

Mark Geary, a Beaumont spokesman, said Friday: "We continue to abide by the order that was entered by the court. We empathize deeply with families in these kinds of very difficult circumstances, but we cannot discuss the particulars of a patient’s care without the family’s explicit permission. We remain committed to supporting the family in a compassionate, ethical and legally appropriate way.”

Cromer’s family filed a lawsuit last month in Oakland County on behalf of Cromer and his mother, LaShauna Lowry, to keep him on a ventilator after the hospital determined the teenager had no brain activity on Oct. 24 and life support should be removed. Cromer, a University of Detroit Jesuit High junior and wrestler, has been hospitalized and comatose with an undisclosed head injury since Oct. 17.

On Thursday, Oakland Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou dismissed the case and advised attorneys that it was better suited to probate court.

But instead of immediately refiling there, Rasor filed a civil rights lawsuit on Cromer’s behalf in U.S. District Court seeking an emergency temporary restraining order because as of next Tuesday “… defendant will remove life support for Plaintiff and he will perish if the court does not grant relief herein.”

The federal complaint alleges state law and Michigan’s Determination of Death Act “does not permit a health care provider to cease providing medical treatment, a violation of Plaintiff Titus Cromer and his mother’s constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit was initially assigned to Goldsmith, who was unavailable Friday, so Roberts reviewed it in his absence. Rasor said the family expects to be back before Goldsmith on Nov. 19.

Rasor said the hospital’s position is that it would be ethically wrong to perform any medical procedures on a person who has been determined as dead.

But Rasor and co-counsel, Andrew J. Laurila argue that reviews from their medical experts, including Dr. Richard Bonfiglio of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, show that despite being comatose, Cromer continues to regulate his own heart rate, blood pressure, intake oxygen for brief periods, and produce hormones, urine and feces.

A relative reported Cromer has responded to stimuli — saying he moved his hand while she was holding his hand.

“We believe he is showing improvement every day,” said Rasor, who wants Beaumont to allow an outside doctor to visit and examine the teenager and to provide medical procedures needed to move Cromer to a long-term nursing care facility.

The hospital has denied both requests but said Friday it would provide the application information needed for a medical professional to work in the hospital, Rasor said.

“Our medical expert indicates the healing of his brain could take up to two years,” said Rasor.

Bonfiglio, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, said Friday he has seen numerous cases in his 37 years in practice of comatose patients come back from serious brain injuries. He said if the teenager is stabilized in a care facility, he will return to Michigan once a month to help direct his rehabilitation.

“I don’t understand what the rush is in this particular case to cut off life support,” said Bonfiglio. “He is seriously brain injured but it may be months before it can be determined whether he has a chance to recover, or to what degree. But it happens. You can’t predict it. Certainly not in three weeks.”


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