'Let him breathe,' baby's dad implores

Blythe Bernhard

Document Publication: STLToday.com - St. Louis, MO

March 16, 2011

The transfer of a terminally ill baby across the Canadian border to St. Louis had all the drama and suspense of a prison escape, the child's father said Tuesday.

Moe Maraachli said 1-year-old Joseph received a police escort from the hospital to the airport in Ontario before he was airlifted to Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center Sunday night.

Doctors at Cardinal Glennon declined to say why they welcomed Joseph after other hospitals agreed there were no treatment options for the fatal, progressive disease that left the child in a vegetative state.

For the last month, the child's plight has attracted international attention after his parents refused plans to remove him from life support. London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario stepped up security for staff after receiving numerous threats. After a judge upheld the decision to remove Joseph's breathing tube, the parents decided to move him out of Canada.

"I fight for him because that's my job for my son," Maraachli, 34, said in an interview Tuesday at Cardinal Glennon. "He's never given up, because I've never given up."

Joseph will probably receive a throat surgery at Cardinal Glennon later this week to clear his airway and connect him to a portable breathing machine, hospital officials said Monday.

The child would then likely be taken to a nursing home, with the ultimate goal of returning to his home in Windsor, across the border from Detroit.

"Let me take him home and let him breathe," Maraachli said. "If he will die, he will die because he's sick, naturally."

Canadian doctors said they believed the surgery could delay Joseph's death by a few months but was too risky and invasive for a child with a fatal illness. They had instead agreed to help transfer Joseph home, where they would then remove his breathing tube. The child has no cough or gag reflexes to keep his airway clear, doctors determined.

But Maraachli said he would rather the child die from his disease than an inability to breathe. In the last month, pro-life activists have taken up the family's cause and nearly 15,000 people joined a "Save Baby Joseph" Facebook page.

The Canadian hospital launched a public relations campaign in late February "to correct the enormous amount of false and misleading information" surrounding the case.

Attempts in social media to paint Joseph's situation as akin to euthanasia were outrageous and defamatory, the Canadian hospital said.

Multiple neurological tests showed Joseph was blind and deaf, could not swallow or breathe on his own and had lost all brain stem reflexes required to sustain life, according to records.

The Consent and Capacity Board of Ontario, a Superior Court judge in Canada and a lawyer appointed for Joseph all agreed that his parents were not acting in his best interests by requesting a tracheotomy and not withdrawing life support.

"The parents were adamant that they wanted (Joseph) to live by any artificial means in the hope that there would be recovery," reads the board's decision. "(Joseph) should be allowed to die with dignity."

The Canadian hospital strongly opposed Joseph's transfer to St. Louis.

"Prior to the St. Louis offer to accept Baby Joseph, a number of U.S. hospitals had refused, on medical grounds, to accept him, noting in doing so that London Health Sciences Centre was delivering the most appropriate care possible," reads a statement released after Joseph left Canada on Sunday. "A network of special interest groups refused to accept these facts and attempted to interfere ... by advocating for a hospital to accept the baby to implement an alternative care plan."

New York-based Priests for Life agreed to pay for Joseph's transfer and medical care in St. Louis.

Maraachli said he has heard criticisms that he and his wife are acting selfishly for wanting surgery and continued ventilation for Joseph.

"It's easy to say because it's not their situation," Maraachli said. "I hope nobody replaces me, and I hope all their kids are healthy and God blesses them."

Maraachli, who is Muslim, said his family believes Joseph's fate rests with God. His wife, Sana Nader, who plans to travel to St. Louis soon, is Catholic.

"Nothing is impossible in this world if you have trust in God," said Maraachli, who said he is originally from Lebanon and has been a Canadian citizen for 11 years. "What God wants to do, that's what I want to do."

The couple have an older son, Ali, who is 7. Another child, Zina, died nine years ago at 18 months of age from a degenerative condition similar to Joseph's, doctors have said.

Zina did receive a tracheotomy, and her father said he cherished the opportunity to care for her at home for six months before she died and only wants the same for Joseph.

"Give him this treatment and let me go home," he said.

Maraachli said he wanted to tell the American people that he was grateful for their "big, warm hug." He plans to eventually write a book or screenplay about Joseph's story to share his lesson for parents:

"Don't surrender. Fight for your baby."

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 • Email: mail@priestsforlife.org