Baby Joseph Returns Home to Canada

April 21, 2011 - 9:05 AM

St. Louis (AP) - A 15-month-old boy deemed to be in a permanent vegetative state who received treatment in the U.S. aimed at extending his life after it was denied to him in his native Canada left the St. Louis hospital that treated him on Thursday, doctors said.

Joseph Maraachli left Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis before dawn and flew with his parents and 7-year-old brother to their home in Ontario, exactly one month after receiving a tracheotomy aimed at extending his life, the hospital said in a statement.

Baby Joseph suffers from the progressive neurological disease Leigh Syndrome. Doctors in Canada had refused to perform the tracheotomy, saying it was futile, and an Ontario court decided doctors could remove the child's breathing tube.

His family sought help from American hospitals, and Cardinal Glennon agreed to treat Joseph.

The hospital said the tracheotomy was a success and that Joseph has been breathing without a ventilator for more than a week. Doctors said the procedure provides Joseph with increased mobility and comfort while providing a more stable airway. It protects his lungs from inhaled saliva or other material that could cause aspiration pneumonia.

"By providing him with this common palliative procedure, we've given Joseph the chance to go home and be with his family after spending so much of his young life in the hospital," said Dr. Robert Wilmott, chief of pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon.

The child's father, Moe Maraachli, said in a statement that he was grateful for all of the support in recent weeks.

"So many people from the United States and Canada and all around the world have reached out, sent letters and called my family to let us know they were praying for us and thinking about us," Maraachli said. "This has really helped our family through this hard time, to know there is so much kindness in the world."

The hospital originally expected to send Joseph to a St. Louis rehabilitation hospital, but said he responded so well to the tracheotomy that he could be sent home instead.

Joseph's story drew international attention after doctors at London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario, where he had been treated since October, determined that he was in a permanent vegetative state and that his condition was deteriorating, and they planned to take him off of assisted breathing.

Joseph's parents, who lost an 18-month-old child to the same disease eight years ago, challenged the hospital's finding in court but lost. Maraachli and Sana Nader contended that removing their son's breathing tube would cause him to suffocate and cause him undue suffering, and they sought to compel doctors to give Joseph a tracheotomy that would allow him to breathe through a tube inserted into his throat. They said the tracheotomy could extend his life up to six months -- as they say it did for their other child who died -- and would allow him to die at home.

After losing in the courts, Joseph's parents enlisted support for their cause using social media sites, but the hospital refused to reverse course. So they began reaching out to U.S. hospitals, and Cardinal Glennon agreed to care for their son.