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July 8th, 2010
04:27 PM ET

Visiting brain-damaged mom, a collision of instincts

I am not sure which instinct took over first. When I heard the story of Abbie Dorn, I remember listening with my "head" as a neurosurgeon, and also listening with my "heart" - as a dad. Like you probably will, I thought of Abbie's three children. I have three of my own.

Abbie was young, recently married, and wanting to start a family. It did not happen easily. She underwent IVF, and was finally told she was pregnant. Triplets. It was the most exciting day of her life.  Abbie's mother told me all of this, because Abbie cannot. You see, something went terribly wrong during the delivery. There was bleeding, more than two liters. Abbie's heart failed, and for too long her brain went without oxygenated blood.

Abbie survived, but she was left in a state where she can barely move, cannot speak and only blinks her eyes.  As you will see as I examine Abbie,  it is this blinking that is now at the heart of a bitter legal controversy.

Abbie's parents, her therapist and her lawyer believe she is communicating through those blinks. They believe she is letting them know: "I want to see my children." Her husband, who has since divorced her, thinks otherwise. He thinks that there is no way she could be communicating, and that it would be damaging for the children to see their mother in this condition. He worries the triplets, who are now 4 years old, might one day blame themselves for what happened to her, at the time of their birth.

There are gray areas of medicine, and that is especially true  when it comes to the brain. Doctors don't agree on Abbie's condition. And, now to try and settle this, medicine and the legal system will collide.

Of course, when sitting back and thinking about this whole situation, my dad instinct took over once again. I wondered if the focus regarding Abbie was misplaced. Regardless of her condition or her ability to communicate or interact, do her children have a right to see their mother? And, does Abbie have a right to be with her children? There are no easy answers, but I am eager to hear what you have to say.

Program Note: See Dr. Sanjay Gupta's full report on Abbie Dorn tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET.


soundoff (681 Responses)
  1. AnneSD

    It seems to me that the mother's family is basing their arguments on the rights of the mother and their perception that the mother is actually cognizant. I can understand they want to believe she is cognizant, but that doesn't make it so.

    One of the other commentors suggested taking pictures and videos of the children and showing them to the mother. I think that should be done with a 3rd party, court appointed doctor and psychologist observing to see if she really has any awareness of those children or understanding that they are her children. If she does not, then there is no good reason to traumatize very young children with a memory of their mother as basically a vegetable. They should instead be given pictures, stories and videos of her as she was before the birth so that they have positive images of their mother.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. samsara

    what kind of man abandons the mother of their children when she becomes ill? and then has the audacity to keep their children away from her? and her away from them? it's despicable.
    those kids need to learn that the world isn't always rainbows and butterfiles. s*!t happens and the earlier they know this, the better equipped they'll be to deal with it properly

    July 8, 2010 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DMGMD

      She's not "ill". Abby Dorn doesn't exist anymore. The only thing left is her body. What made her Abby is LONG gone. Stop beating on the dad, please. He's raising three small children, without the woman he loved.

      July 8, 2010 at 18:51 | Report abuse |
  3. Tracey

    I feel terrible for the mom and even worse for the children. What an appalling life lesson Dad is teaching them. If someone or something is not perfect-close your eyes, stay away and pretend they don't exist. She's still their mom, she went through the rigorous IVF procedure so she and her husband could add to their family only to almost lose her life giving birth. Is Dad also keeping the children from knowing the love of their maternal grandparents? This man has been given the most precious gift ever by the children's mom and to use these children as reason to abandon the mom is truly horrible.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jim

    As a child, I watched my mother's progression with MS. She died at age 29. I was seven years old. I used to sit at the hospital and watch her. One day, she asked me to get my father's gun and bring it to the hospital so she could end her life. For years I was traumatized. Every little twinge in my arm and my leg meant that I was getting MS and was going to die like my mother. It was a very scarring episode. This was in spite of my father telling me that I was safe.

    I was raised by an aunt afterwards, and I called her my mother. As a child, I could have gone without visiting my stricken mother. I could have done without the knowledge that there are horrible diseases out there over which mere mortal human beings have no power over.

    I think that in this case, the father is right. Those folk who say that children are resilient are wrong. Children appear to be resilient, but I still carry the scars of watching my mother die at a very tender age. Ignorance is truly bliss when it comes to the children. I feel strongly about this.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • fdm

      Hi Jim, I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. I can't imagine how a traumatic that was. It was incomprehensible of your mother to ask you, a 7-year-old or younger, to bring a gun to the hospital. Maybe you didn't need to be immersed in your mom's sick, hospitalized world, or know all of the details of what was going on. I think that is sometimes too much for adults to handle, let alone small children. I don't think we can hide illness, death, and dying from children, or protect from every bad thing in the world, but parents/adults should try to frame things in an age-appropriate way without lying or trying to hide things. If kids ask, we should tell the truth without showing too much of human fragility.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
  5. ABC123

    The children have every right to see their mother. It should be about what is best for the children. My children who we received through adoption have no information on their biological parents and it is a horrible stress for them to not know anything. They are jealous of my biological children who have this huge gift of information – my heart grieves for them. Humans need closure. If the father waits until Abbie Dorn is dead and then tells the triplets, it robs them of coming to terms with their mother's condition and finding closure. The triplets will eventually find out about the circumstances of their birth. This information is better received from a parent than some random child on the playground. I have yet to read a book which advises parents to lie to their children. Please prepare the children in an age appropriate way and make sure they meet their biological mother before this precious opportunity is gone.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Connie

      I was adopted and I do not feel it is a horrible stress to not have information. Every day is a gift and life is what you make it! Perhaps your children are more resilient than you think.

      July 8, 2010 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  6. Connie

    Two words – Terry Schiavo. The husband wanted what was best for the wife and the parents fought him to the end.

    I have worked in healthcare for many years. Her blinking looks a spontaneous response. She is not blinking once for yes and twice for no. How do we know she wants to see them? She cannot communicate. Her parents want her to see her kids. They are not putting their grandchildren first.

    The children are too young and it's too damaging. How do you explain Mommy can't talk, Mommy can't hold you, etc. If they are older and she is still here, it's their choice.

    Please all – cut the husband a break. He may still be visiting and caring for the wife – we don't know. He is currently taking care of three kids. It's four years later. He will never be able to have a relationship of any kind with his wife. We do not know if she is terminal or not or can live this way for years. I have a living will, etc. but if they revived me and I was in this state, I would want my husband to find happiness with someone else.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rachel

      Sorry, I can't agree with you. This is NOTHING like the Terry Schiavo case. In that particular case, her husband stayed by her side until he felt it was a lost cause, many, many years after she fell into a coma. Abbie Dorn's husband cut his ties as soon as he could. Cut him some slack? I don't think so. Ever.

      July 8, 2010 at 20:51 | Report abuse |
    • Laura J

      You cannot put that forward as a sound medical or psychological opinion, really. New evidence shows much more actual understanding in such patients than was ever thought, poor brain scans in all – were you in the field, you would know this. As to the damage seeing her would do to the kids, well, that too is not grounded in any good psychology. Its actually quite a silly statement and betrays how little training, if any, you have.

      July 8, 2010 at 21:48 | Report abuse |
    • Connie

      Laura J –

      I am quite familiar with neurology. More than I want to be. There is no reason to belittle me.

      True, they find out new information all the time. It's great. However, Abbie Dorn has been in this state for four years. They will not be able to reverse her or increase her function with therapy. No matter what wonderful discoveries are made – I can't imagine a therapy or medication to suddenly reverse this condition, can you?

      If she is on a feeding tube.....I have a living will. I would already been gone so this horrendous battle would not exist.

      July 9, 2010 at 08:50 | Report abuse |
  7. Jeepers

    I'm glad I don't have to make that decision because I have no idea what the right answer is. What if she is aware? How cruel of a fate. And what does he think? His kids will somehow never know what happened to their mother? Sure she would be scary to a 4 year old...but they could still blame themselves when they find out later in life. That comes down to personality. Then again, it could just be wishful thinking on the part of her parents and by keeping her body alive they're just being selfish and maybe he wants no part of that. I'm sure it's easier to move on if in your mind a person is dead and not semi-dead. It's a pretty awful scenario all around.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sangriel

    Yes, absolutely the kids should be allowed to vist their mom. Children are more accepting and uncompassionate beings. We as a society teach them otherwise.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Victor

    Children are little angels that can look beyond what we see and love unconditionally. Let them see each other. If there's even a little understanding of her surroundings, a kiss from her kids would mean much more than we can even imagine.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sangriel

    I meant for that to be Compassionate 🙂

    July 8, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. EbonyRose

    The dad is an asshole for not allowing that woman to see her children. He doesn't deserve to raise them. They should be taken away from him because he is a bad influence on them.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jeannie

    I definitely think that the children should be allowed to see their mother and the mother to see her children. Of course, an adult would be with the children while they were with their Mom, so if anything remotely upsetting began to happen, they could be gently removed from the room. It is a very sad situation, but I think it would be even sadder to keep a mom and her kids apart. God bless all of them.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sammie

    What if this woman dies? If I grew up and found out that I had the opportunity to meet my mother before she died (no matter what state she was in) and was denied that chance, I would be LIVID. Bad things happen to parents all the time – they get cancer, they die, etc. It's unfortunate that anyone has to go through that, but it's a part of life. This mother has the right to see her kids. But more importantly, these kids have the right to see their mother.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. venkat

    what do you want the children to learn ? my mother is somebody who has passed away giving birth or you want them to understand the social intricacies and appreciate life ?

    July 8, 2010 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Abby

    As fellow humans – If there's even a CHANCE she might be communicating you must assume that she is.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Susan

    Abbie should be allowed to see her children, it may be the only pleasure she ever again has in her lifetime. If the dad is worried that the children might feel guilty about what happened to their mom, I would say there is no need to tell them what caused her condition.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. E

    Why should she not get to see her children? She is not a danger to the kids! There are SO many unfit parents that courts order have a right to see their children. Criminal, abusive, narcissistic manipulative parents that do cause damage their children's mental and physical health, sometimes even kills them and the other parent. They get the right to see their children... why not this poor woman that has done nothing wrong? I can't believe that 4 years have passed and she has not got to see them, that is just not right!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. DMGMD

    I think the real question is whether all the things that made this woman who she was before this severe brain injury are still there. I would very much doubt that they are. I think in situations such as this close family members will see and hear what they want to see and hear. It's doubtful that this woman is communicating with her eyes.

    A neurologist examined her for the court and deemed her brain to be so severely damaged that she's unable to be fully assessed. Since it's unlikely that the person who conceived these triplets is still intact, the question of her "wanting" to see her children is in my opinion moot. My wife would in no way want our son to see her in that condition, nor would I want my son to see me that way.

    It is more likely her parents wanting to believe that their child will somehow recover by some miracle, rather than accepting that all that is left is brainstem and a shell. What made her a daughter, mother, and wife has most likely been long gone. Instead of spending $33,000 a month on dubious "therapies", create a trust fund for the children, repair the relationship with the kids father, and cut all of the lawyers out of the equation. The children will want to see their "mother" one day, when they are ready. Forcing that image on them could be devastating.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. A. Nony

    Is there evidence that she is actually communicating, and not just randomly blinking? Can she respond to simple questions, for example yes (one blink) or no (two blinks)? Have they tried the MRI experiment, in which some people thought to be in comas respond to instructions, as evidenced by brain activity showing up on the MRI scan? Even if the answer is "yes, the evidence is clear that she is communicating" (which I tend to doubt), the poster "As a Mom" makes good points, and I suggest that everyone with a knee-jerk reaction read that post. Why not try showing her a video of the children first?
    There simply is not enough information presented here for me to decide that I know what is best. This article was written for people with a short attention span.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Susie

      Whether or not it has been medically proven that she is aware, there is something there. Who are you to judge whether she is truly alive or not. I hope this never happens to you.

      July 8, 2010 at 20:55 | Report abuse |
  20. Steve

    She died years ago, but misguided medicine and family are keeping her body alive. She is not requesting to see her kids, her parents are the ones doing that. She is only alive in a technical sense. The mother of those children is effectively dead.

    It is up to the kids' dad to decide what is best for them, not a court.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DMGMD

      Well said.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:21 | Report abuse |
    • MadameJ

      How do you know that, Steve? There are people who wake-up for being in coma for years, oftentimes making an unexpected recovery. Why are people so quick to treat another human being like rubbish? Just toss them out.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
    • Susie

      Who made you God that you can judge whether she should be kept alive by misguided medicine or not. God help you if anything like this ever happens to you. With an attitude like yours, I sure wouldn't want to be the one to make the decision whether you be kept alive or not.

      July 8, 2010 at 20:57 | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      You can't know that she's "dead"– she does seem to make purposeful movements and to just toss her aside is morally wrong. I
      am very cynical about some of these things but as a nurse I have taken care of someone who was in a more vegetative state than this woman for 10 years... and I saw her a few months ago and I was floored. She was communicating and actually making eye contact and saying some words. Two years ago none of that was there. We live in a society where when people want something, they wanted it five minutes ago and Thank God her parents have the patience and love for her to help her heal–sometimes things aren't immediate and answers aren't always there. Hopefully if you're in a car accident your family doesn't just toss you in a nursing home for you to rot.

      July 9, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
  21. Cheryl

    I'm going to err on the side of optimism and say let her see them.

    My father is in a state similar to this woman's. He survived a heart attack that caused cardiac arrest, a brain bleed from a head injury cause by the heart attack, and a stroke, all within 24 hours. My father can't move, can't talk, but he can make faces. He recognizes us, his family, and he is able to let the nursing staff and us know what he does and doesn't like.

    My sisters and I have brought our children to visit him when we can. It's much easier for the younger ones to accept this change in their granddad than it was for the older kids.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. TAMMY

    What a sad story-we have a mother who wanted children badly and now cant even see them! Even if she is in a state where she really dont know what is going on I think she should be allowed to see her children this may even help her in healing...who's to say the dad is any better at raising these kids, he divorced his wife when she obviously needed him most!!! just sad....

    July 8, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. sdfsd

    Two words, or a hyphenated one – in-laws. There is probably much more to this story than simply depicting the Dad as evil and the Mom as a comatose Mary Poppins. He's obviously moved on and grieved and I would think it'd take all he had mentally, physically & financially to raise triplets ALONE. Perhaps he took all the energy he had and put it into survival. Remember, he's got to provide for those 3 kids and himself. A person in full time care like that would cost a fortune and bankrupt the family. If he divorced her, she could go on medicaid and welfare etc etc. If he stays married, they all starve. If her case is as terminal as it sounds, I think the Dad did the right thing in moving on with the kids. I'm sure his ex-wife is well cared for outside that. Who are we to think that it'd make the Mother feel better to see the kids and not be able to have them around all the time & interact with them? It might make her feel even worse. And as for the kids? This woman is a stranger to them now – I'm not sure it would be the best thing at 4 years old for them to see her – they wouldn't even be able to comprehend the situation. And I have to think they have other mom type figures in their life by now whether that be a significant other, a grandma, or an aunt.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MadameJ

      What you stated has some validity, but things could be the opposite of what you've stated. How do we know? Based on the info given... it would be in the best interest of the children never mind how the husband is feeling. My mom died when I was young, but my dad was with her until the end and we were barely making it financially. We were not allowed in the hospital to see her because we were too young (things have changed since then) but my dad would bring her to the window in her room and we got to see her and for that I thank my father. My grandmother helped my father raise the three of us. It is often more to the story that what we read or hear. I just think the reason given by the father is a weak one and its his guilt that he is feeding off of in this situation.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:35 | Report abuse |
  24. keress

    Those kids will someday, someway, find out. If they never had the chance to show her some love, give her some attention, they will only feel that much more guilty. Their best way out of that trap is for them to have the chance to love her. If they do that, then they've done everything they could have for her, and will have the best chance of weathering the implications when they're finally old enough to understand what she inadvertently sacrificed for them. And for her, she needs to have that sacrifice, and herself, ackowledged. We have no way of knowing how much, or how little conscious, she really is. With just a little of her humanity intact, she will still respond to this acknowledgment. To just ignore her and let her veg away is just too cold. That's one thing kids don't need to have modelled around them.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sharon

    Children do what they see. If Dad treats their mother like a leper they will too. If Dad is loving and teaches his children about real love they will be able to reflect his teaching. This is a great opportunity for Dad to teach his children the most valuable lesson life has to offer.... acceptance!

    July 8, 2010 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Peg

    I would not want my children seeing me in that condition. Show her pictures and videos of her kids and show the kids pictures of their mom when she was healthy. I don't see fault in the husband getting a divorce, his life shouldn't stop because hers did. Watching Dr. Gupta talking to Abbie I get the impression he does not believe she is communicating. My sister-in-law was in that condition for a few months before she died and my inlaws believed every tear and every movement meant she was understanding them. It was heartbreaking to watch. The husband didn't let their children see their mom like that. Our family kept this private, no media, it was nobody's business but ours.

    July 8, 2010 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. JA

    Of course they should see each other, seems like a foregone conclusion. Kids should be talked to about it first, but they need to be taught probably that some folks have disabilities and that that is a natural part of the life cycle.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Kate

    Dr, Gupta,
    I think the father is wrong on several counts. As for letting the children see their mother...they should-the sooner the better. It will be more of a shock for them to see her when they are older, having not seen her at all, and that being the case, they would be more apt to feel guilty. They need to grow up seeing her as she is.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. mr. mike

    if it was my fiancee in that bed you can rest assured i would spend every minute i could there every second i had a chance i would hope and wish for a sign and our children would be there with me they would grow up in the hospital room for the first few years and then slowly i am sure we would begin to seperate a little and get our lives back but never would we stop visiting i personally don't understand how he could ever turn his back and walk away but then again at the same time just as the rest of you should understand we don't know their story mine i am most greatful for it has been love and romance sure we argue from time to time but the vast majority has been nothing but bliss........who is to say they had the same with all this pregnancy i am sure there was more stress than imaginable...i would react the way i would because of me he is probably doing the same and raising 3 kids in the inviroment i am sure he has had can be no easy task what so ever so if he makes mistakes along the way cut him some slack and let him make the dicissions he wants for his family what ever the motive that is the role parents are supposed to play far too often our country puts its nose into family buisness there should be no case there should be no court hearing the mother even if she is concious has no concious cohierent thoughts and while i would look at this a shame and it breaks my heart for the children in the end it should be their fathers choice and noone elses

    July 8, 2010 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jane

      you'll make someone a great husband and dad someday if you don't already.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
  30. Debbie Petitto

    I think you are underestimating the bond between a mother and her babies, it's tremendous. Shame on the father for waiting 4 years to make this decision, now the courts will have to get involved.The children could have been spared a lot of heartache if this only had been handled properly from the birth. Let the children see their mother!!!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. extrafaith

    The argument that the dad has with regards to the children feeling that they may take self blame for their mother difficulties during their birth, is not something the father can easily keep the children from possibly experiencing in a few short years when they have access to the internet, or are made aware of this story by other children in their classroom or even possibly read for themselves. The cruelty lies more in denying the children the chance to have a relationship with their mother- regardless of her condition, and regardless of how fulfilling that relationship would even be for them. They have the right to know they were loved by the woman who sacrificed her health and well-being to bring loved children into this world, in the hope she could be their mother. Denying a parent to a child because of some notion that it may hurt the child's feelings because the parent is unable to communicate, is something that could very well backfire on the dad. Children need to come to their own conclusion. In turn, someday the children may deny a relationship with their father on their won accord due to his unjustified reasoning. Time will tell. Let the children see their mother. They may after a visit with their mother, tell their dad they don't want to see her again. Children are not stupid and without honesty in situations like this. It would be similar as if you brought a child to a nursing home to visit an ailing grandparent who can no longer communicate. Some children want to go visit the grandparent again- some say they'd prefer not to. Let the children decide after they've had a chance to visit their mother. It's the right thing to do for all parties, including the dad.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. TammyB

    I think they should be allowed to visit with and see their Mother. I don't think they should be told why she is in that state until they are much older, so they fully understand, when they can comprehend, that it was not through any fault of theirs that she ended up the way she did. It would be much more devastating for them to never see her and meet her finally when they are older, not having had the opportunity to get used to her. Children get used to things when they are exposed to them, and that includes different kinds of people. They have the right to be around their Mother.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Moi

    Dr. Sanjay, I have to say this is a very heartfelt story. And I have to say most especially sad because such issues tear families apart. My heart goes out to the families involved

    July 8, 2010 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jane

    I agree that Abbie should see the kids. Having worked with the disabled most of my professional life, I've found that kids respond to disabilities far better than adults. They are much more accepting and the earlier the exposure, the better. As far as them blaming themselves, that will depend on how their dad handles it. All they have to know right now is that their mommy is sick and can't take care of them. And by the way, I've worked with kids who have proven they communicate through eye blinks.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. raisin mountaineer

    Kids accept as normal whatever they grow up with. They should visit their mom, be kids around her (don't be quiet, somber, whatever– that's scary) and know that the woman who gave birth to them got very sick after they were born and wasn't able to take care of them. They should know that she loves them very much but that her body doesn't work right and so they can't live with her– but that she enjoys hearing from them, receiving pictures, etc. That she wishes them well and wants them to be happy.

    I'm not sure how that could cause "guilt" in a small child. Initially fFinding out about a disabled mom as an older child– now, that could be devastating.

    Visit now. Choose the story of "your mom loves you but can't take care of you and is so happy you have a wonderful daddy who loves you and is there for you" now, and keep telling it.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Chelsea Itson

    Absolutely. She should have been able to see them since the beginning. The father in this is being incredibly uncaring, selfish, and in my opinion, he never really loved her in the first place. I've had countless surgeries in my lifetime to keep me alive and it is known that my husband would NEVER divorce me, even if that meant being married to someone in Abbie's condition. What a heartless man. I read upthread that those children will end up hating him should they find the truth, and they will. This statement is correct. For all we know, she may only be holding on enough to see them, and he may be depriving her of peace.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jim

    I find it ironic that people would say that kids are resilient without really knowing the truth about resilience, except for anecdotal evidence and flawed observation. Who ever said that we spend our adult lives getting over our childhood, spoke the truth. Therapists buy BMWs' from treating "resilient" kids. Kids do not bounce as well as adults think that they do.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mommybeck

      Perhaps the lack of resiliency comes from parents sheltering their children too much. I taught at the college level and was amazed at how many parents came barreling down my door to argue over a student's well-deserved bad grade or to pay for their child's multiple parking tickets. Kids these days don't know how to take care of themselves or how to deal with situations and feelings. BUT, at the ages we are speaking of in this article, children truly are resilient and accepting of all kinds of differences (race, disability, appearance, orientation, etc.).

      July 8, 2010 at 19:43 | Report abuse |
    • Orphaned by my mother

      I agree with Mommy Beck... my therapy wasn't because my parents died. It was because I wasn't allowed to be part of their families or allowed to speak about them. I should have been allowed to grieve, not expected to pretend they never existed.

      July 8, 2010 at 20:27 | Report abuse |
  38. Katie

    My mother died in childbirth when I was born. I can't describe what it was like to grow up without her, although my father has done a really fanastic job in raising my older brothers and me. I won't say that the guilt feelings don't exist... of course they do, and my dad made sure they were properly dealt with once they began showing, because HE was always absolutely convinced that what happened could never have been my fault!! So he listened and talked to me and always made sure I knew I was very much loved and welcome. I remember that there was never a day that went by for me without knowing I would give anything to see or to have met my mom. I think this father must still have doubts/mixed feelings about these poor innocent kids being guilty for their mom's sad fate... It's not their fault!!! He should definitely put things out in the open for them in a way they can understand (trust me, sir... kids are smarter than you think) and let them see their mother...and please...as an expecting mom myself now – let her see her children...

    July 8, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Louis Tran

    Dr. Sanjay,
    As a retired physician, we're faced with this situation daily and now my two kids are also physicians themselves. They asked me the same question over the past weekend when they both had to tell the victim's family what had happened to Mom. Mom was involved in a serious car accident which she was thrown out of the car and now she's pretty much a "blinker" when questions were asked. She also had two kids-2 and 3 years old. The Dad don't want the kids to see Mom in the condition that she's in but others want them to.
    My only suggestion to my kids were to let the Creator a.k.a. God lead them...we were given the talent to be healers and we should not intervene when the mind or emotions of little ones involved. Little kid's mind are amazing they will understand the situation and God has already provided them with a cushion to deal with terrible events. After all, we as adults think we know better.
    God has already set the course for us to follow. I hope and pray that things will turn out fine without costly legal battles.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. rose

    The children should be able to see her mother. No matter in what condition she is in those are her children. If the father would have allowed them to see her since they were babies, they would have known her already. Who knows if she understands? We have seen cases where people knew what was going on but were unable to express themselves. I am amazed to see that a father would do that to his children.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. fdm

    I doubt she is communicating. It is likely wishful thinking on her parents part that she is interacting with her environment. This echoes of Terri Schiavo. Children should know who their parents are, even if it is a difficult situation. They should not be lied to or kept away from their parents. It is probably more painful for the children's father than the triplets themselves. At this age, all they need to know is that she is sort of sick, but still loves them very much. When they are old enough to ask "What happened to Mommy?", then they should be told the truth in age-appropriate language. A bigger question is, would Abby want to be kept alive like this (I'm assuming through artificial means). If yes, then what is happening is okay, if not, then Abby's parents need to re-examine the situation.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Habepte

    I agree with everyone. She deserves to see her children regardless of her condition. This story came out 3 or 4 months ago and 8th grade students saw me reading this story and were heart broken. For people that asked why he divorced her the reason was he wanted to get on with his life and he eventually re-married and left her in the dust. It is sad that you get married to someone you love and when something horrible happens you level and do not even communicate with that person. That is the worst form of cruelty on top of refusing her access to her children, her life. He should be ashamed and so should his family for supporting this behavior.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marjorie

      I could not agree more. People, for the most part, are too hell bent on their own personal happiness instead of doing what is right. If more people did what was right, and in this particular case, this dad would have stayed by his wife's side and not abandoned her. He would discover that true happiness is felt in doing what is right, and not what feels right.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
  43. Marjorie

    What ever happened "To Death Do Us Part". This man divorced his wife after she suffered a devistating disability after giving birth to his children. Now he won't even allow the children and their mother to have a relationship. All I can say to this dad is watch out for karma, cause what goes around comes around.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DMGMD

      Please explain who 3 four year olds can have a "relationship" with a woman who is only technically "alive"? There's no evidence that she thinks, feels or is even aware. Those kids would merely be staring at an empty shell. Relationship takes at least two parties interacting and bonding emotionally.

      The man realized early on he had 3 children who needed his love an attention far more than his former wife, whose "soul" if you believe in such things long ago left her body.

      The man is a single parent to three small children. His wife is dead. Quit getting on him about how he does or does not interact with what is now merely a shell.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:36 | Report abuse |
    • Marjorie

      TO: DMGMD: She is alive...she is not dead. This is a FACT, not something to be debated. Her soul has not left her yet. People communicate on so many levels...not just verbally. You are NOT in her head. YOU have NO idea what she comprehends. I had a brother who was in a coma and he recalls, to this day, many of the conversations that took place in his hospital room while he was in a coma. This mother gave paid the ultimate cost to bring these babies into this world and I cannot believe that this is even an issue. She has EVERY SINGLE RIGHT in the world to see her babies and have whatever relationship...yeah, I said it...RELATIONSHIP that is possible! This father should be ashamed. It's not too late for him to change his ways and allow the children to be part of their mother's life!

      July 8, 2010 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
    • mary

      DMGMD
      Ask any child who had a disabled parent what they were most glad about and they will tell you, it's that they hope they brought some joy into their parents life. That is what he is stealing from his children..The feeling that they gave back a little some thing to the mother that lost it all in giving them life..
      It isn't about establishing a "relationship"..It is about the kids and the emptiness they will feel having been robbed of this opportunity.
      And you wait..If they don't grow up to be a incredibly selfish as he is, they will feel a loss for having been denied access to their mother.

      July 8, 2010 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
  44. kyle

    I think that the question this story should raise, is whether or not people should be trying so hard to get pregnant that they end up with twins, triplets or more. That is very unhealthy for the babies as well as the mother. I think doctors should be doing one embryo at a time and if the people can't afford to keep trying each month then tough s***.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Nick B.

    I believe the reason for the controversy of this case is simply that the dad divorced his wife. Had that not happened, he would not be an obstacle to the kids seeing their mom.

    It would have been harder to decide right and wrong if the divorce had taken place before the accident. Now, I suspect/feel the dad wants his life back and, in the quest to become completely detached from the situation, he is looking for the easy way out of the difficult card he is given and is asking for the kids to be kept away. The mom's parents, on the other hand, are probably more upset at the dad for the divorce. I 'm sure part of them realizes how improbable it is for their daughter to come back. Based on this "feeling", I say have the kids see the mom and explain them the situation gently.

    The real difficulty of the situation though cannot be resolved fairly unless a better understanding/handling is reached of how to treat people in a vegetated state. My difficult conclusion is to allow these people to die in dignity and turn their life support equipment off, if there is very little chance of ever waking up in some meaningful state of consciousness.

    This would give all involved time to accept the situation, heal and move forward. Life is hard but you cannot stop moving forward. If you are affected by your loss, accept it, move on and try to help others, not related to you, that suffer all the time and everywhere...

    July 8, 2010 at 19:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Lisa

    If they DON'T get the opportunity to see their mother, then the father is going to receive a lot of resentment, perhaps causing issues greater than guilt on the part of the children when they get older. It will always be "Daddy didn't let us see her.'

    Maybe the father should take a early childhood psychology class. Yes, for the kids seeing her the first time, it WILL be kinda scary. But if the mother continues to hang on, maybe feels the presence of her children, it will let her brain rewire a bit to function more, and maybe the kids will learn early on to talk to her. Young children are WAY more resilient than adults. But if you deny them the right, then you may be causing way more harm than good because the children will eventually know what happened to mom. Better to learn now than when they are 14, 16 or older, when they will really end up with issues, like drug addiction and such.

    You owe your children the truth. Now.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. mommybeck

    I'm not a lawyer, but how is the father legally withholding the children, anyway? Don't the grandparents get to see them either? Also, my kids tend to surprise me when I expect the worst. For example, I took them to an Alzheimer's facility to visit my 92-year old grandmother. I was worried they would be frightened of her and the others. Instead, I had to keep them from trying to crawl into her lap (they were 2 and 3 years old at the time)! They brought smiles to the lesser afflicted people at the facility and I believe it was beneficial to all. You can't keep kids hidden away from the truth. Also, if something were to happen to the mother, the children might resent that they were never given the opportunity to see her.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Rock

    I'm not a parent, but I can't imagine why these children and their mother- who made the ultimate sacrifice to bring them into to this world- shouldn't see each other. There are plenty of ways to prepare the children for meeting their mother (it's long overdue), and allowing whatever relationship they can develop with each other develop.
    My own mother is in a long term care facility almost totally physically paralyzed and unable to speak – and I cannot even think of not visiting her. Of course I have the benefit of a prior different relationship. But it means so much to her to have her children visit her, it's what keeps her alive. And as heartbreaking as it is to see her in the state she is in, the alternative if far worse.
    So, Dad, get over your selfish self and stop trying to pretend this hasn't happened – and let some joy into all of their lives!

    July 8, 2010 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Mary

    I really believe that this situation will backfire on the Dad when his children are older. They will never know their Mom any different than she is now and should be able to give her love. I think they will hold more against Dad for not giving them this chance than they would blame themselves. If you teach them with love and patience they will do better than anyone could imagine. I think Dad needs to examine his true motives and stop being so selfish! We are the parents of 3 children 9, 6 & 4. I have been blown away by their love, kindness and understanding as we accept Foster Children into our home. The Bible tells us to become like little children so clearly God think a lot of who children are and what they can handle!

    July 8, 2010 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shannon

      So true! Children aren't given enough credit. I think they understand more than we know they are and that they are far more capable of loving unconditionally than adults.

      July 9, 2010 at 23:54 | Report abuse |
  50. Judith

    I hope he has not told the children their mother is dead, as someone mentioned above. What kind of terrible values would he be teaching them? "Mommy is sick", accompanied by age-appropriate discussion (4 year olds will ask questions), and then visits to Mom - that should be the solution here. If she dies, and the children (who will become teens and adults) find out they were not allowed to see their mother, there may eventually be terrible resentment and anger, even rejection of the father . Dad needs to do the right thing, and this may well preserve his relationships with his children for a lifetime.

    July 8, 2010 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.