STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Baby Joseph was stretching his arms and kicking his feet as the doctors came into his Missouri hospital room today, one by one.
"He’s holding his hands up and pulling his hands away as the doctors examine him," said the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of the New Dorp-based Priests for Life, who arranged to transfer the terminally ill 13-month-old to the United States from Canada late Sunday.
Father Pavone was accompanied by Joseph’s father, Moe Maraachli, on a specially-equipped air ambulance that the London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario bound for SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis.
"My son has his freedom," said Maraachli in a brief telephone interview with the Advance en route to an appearance on FOX and Friends. "He is not guilty of anything. I am so excited."
Baby Joseph, who has been at the center of a well-publicized life-and-death debate between his parents and his Canadian doctors, has a neurological disorder that is considered fatal.
Doctors in Canada deemed his case hopeless and refused to perform a tracheotomy that would allow him to breathe on his own and spend his last days at home. The hospital said it reserves the tracheotomy procedure for patients, who require a long-term breathing machine.
They called it futile in Joseph’s case.
His transfer was delayed for the last two weeks.
On Sunday, Father Pavone was preaching in Cleveland when he got a call that the hospital was ready to release Joseph. The air ambulance, provided by Michigan-based Kalitta Charters and sponsored and paid for by Priests for Life, was waiting for him at an airport in Detroit.
On the flight back to Missouri, which was a little under two hours, Joseph’s father was in disbelief. Doctors there are performing a full battery of tests.
"[His father] kept saying, ‘I am pinching myself,’" Father Pavone said. "He feels like he’s been liberated from capture. We took a video of the baby and his dad here. In Canada, they took away his cell phone and he couldn’t sleep because he was afraid something bad would be done."
Maraachli’s wife and 7-year-old son are expected to join him in the coming days. The couple lost a daughter about eight years ago to a similar condition.