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Judge OKs tests for woman declared brain dead

RENO — A judge gave a Reno hospital permission Tuesday to conduct more tests to detect brain activity on a young Las Vegas woman who has been kept on life support after being declared brain dead in May.

Washoe County Family Court Judge Frances Doherty, after a four-hour hearing, said St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center can perform two more electroencephalograms on Aden Hailu, over the family’s objections.

Doherty reserved ruling on whether further tests will include a computed tomography, or CT scan, and another clinical exam, giving lawyers 10 days to file and respond to the request.

Hailu, a 20-year-old University of Nevada, Reno student, went to the hospital April 1 complaining of abdominal pain. Doctors performed exploratory surgery and said she suffered severe low blood pressure and lack of oxygen to the brain. She has been in a coma since and was declared brain dead May 28.

Hailu’s father and guardian, Fanuel Gebreyes, went to court after doctors wanted to remove her from machines that are keeping her alive.

Last month, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that standards used by the hospital to determine brain death might not satisfy state law and sent the case back to the lower court for further hearings.

The high court also extended a stay preventing the hospital from removing Hailu from life support.

Dr. Aaron Heide, a neurologist who treated Hailu at the hospital, said that three EEGs were conducted in early April and some brain activity was determined. But her condition deteriorated by late May, and he declared her brain dead after she was unresponsive, lacked brain activity based on a reflexes and eye movements and could not breathe on her own.

Heide testified Tuesday that he wanted to do a follow-up EEG to test brain waves but was told by hospital staff that the woman’s family had denied the request.

William Peterson, attorney for St. Mary’s, said the additional tests were needed to comply with the Supreme Court’s order.

“We’re not asking for much,” he said.

David O’Mara, the lawyer for Gebreyes, opposed further testing.

“There is no reason to do another EEG test because they already declared her brain dead,” he argued. “There is a determination of death, and St. Mary’s wants to pull the plug.”

Court documents said Gebreyes wants to find another doctor or facility to treat Hailu, and Doherty reminded him he is entitled to do so.

“You’ve always had the authority to retain the medical providers for her continued treatment and care,” the judge said.

Peterson said it is unfair for the family to expect the hospital to provide continued treatment.

“What they want to do is nothing,” he said, adding that it is up to the doctors, not the hospital, to determine proper medical practices.

The family previously argued St. Mary’s should have treated Hailu for thyroid problems, something the hospital began doing earlier this month.

When asked about her thyroid, Heide testified that it was neither related to nor caused her coma.

The judge said she was disappointed so much time has been spent arguing over whether medical tests should be conducted, calling the situation a “quagmire of chaos.”

Another hearing is set for Jan 22, when Doherty will consider whether the protocols followed by doctors to declare Hailu brain dead meet the standards in state law.

Contact Sandra Chereb atschereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb

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