LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — An 8-year-old New Albany boy in need of a heart transplant died in agony with his parents by his side while in the care of Norton Healthcare, a wrongful death lawsuit claims.
Finnley McCullum was born with a congenital heart defect and had been in and out of the hospital for most of his life. He underwent a heart transplant last summer, but the transplant was rejected within hours of the procedure.
While Finnley and his parents, Chris and Sally, waited for another heart transplant, he was kept alive with an artificial heart and other life-sustaining treatment. Despite his medical issues, the only child was known for being a vibrant child with an infectious spirit.
In early April, his parents were told by Norton Healthcare the child was no longer a candidate for another heart transplant and he would be removed from the life-sustaining treatment, a lawsuit claims. The lawsuit states Norton didn’t ask for his parent’s approval or consent on a decision that would end his life.
Finnley was conscious and cognitively aware when the decision to end his life was made, according to the lawsuit. Norton Healthcare officials told his parents they’d never before removed life-sustaining treatment from a conscious and cognitively aware child like Finnley before.
The lawsuit claims Norton Healthcare told the boy’s parents that he wouldn’t experience any fear, anxiety or pain once his life-sustaining treatment was removed. But no physicians were present during the procedure and Finnley was conscious and awake as his life was ending.
The boy cried out for help, but his parents had to falsely assure him that everything would be all right, according to the lawsuit. He died after hours of pain and suffering on April 19.
“He knew what was happening as his life support was shut off, his parents stood bedside and they were helpless to do anything to stop it as he looked at them and said ‘help me,'” said Ann B. Oldfather, the lawyer representing the family.
“It was a disaster,” Oldfather said. “Finnley said ‘what’s happening, why is my monitor off,’ his parents had to say, ‘oh they just lost some power, you are going to be okay.'”
Norton Healthcare called the death of Finnley heartbreaking.
“Norton Children’s Hospital cares for our community’s youngest patients, and we serve all families, including those in very difficult situations,” said Renee Murphy, a spokesperson for Norton Healthcare. “Our clinical teams meet with families regularly to review care plans and medical options, and we work to maintain an open dialogue. Our priority is to provide quality care to all those we serve. Unfortunately, not every medical intervention is successful.”
Another claim in the lawsuit said the McCullums were told the life-sustaining treatment could only be continued with a court order.
“He was not going to spend the last 40 hours he had with his son trying to find an attorney, they begged for extensions,” Oldfather said.
According to the family, Norton engaged in several actions intended to pressure and manipulate them during the process.
“They were at times put against each other,” Oldfather said. “One of the caretakers expressed her opinion that if this had been her child, she would have let him go.”
The McCullums claim they’ve experienced severe physical mental and emotional pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
“They counted on that when they said goodbye to Finnley, it would be filled with peace and love and joy, and he would be in Sally’s arms as he passed away,” Oldfather said.
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