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Judge OKs removal of life support; Baby was smothered by her sleeping father.

Byline: Lee Hammel

WORCESTER - A Worcester Juvenile Court judge yesterday authorized removal of life support from a 2-month-old girl whose father apparently accidentally rolled over her while they were asleep in a bed, a state official said yesterday.

The judge also authorized a "do not resuscitate" order for the child, according to Alison R. Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services. Police said the baby was in "very grave condition" in UMass Memorial Medical Center - University Campus.

DSS described Avianna, daughter of David Letourneau and Sarah Elliott of 208 Pilgrim Ave., as being "in an irreversible coma from which officials involved said she will not recover."

Ms. Goodwin described a series of steps that were taken before the Juvenile Court ruled on Avianna's case yesterday afternoon. She said that DSS urged removal of life support "based on recommendations made by expert medical professionals and with the support of her parents."

The department followed a protocol requiring a recommendation from the treating physician, from the ethics committee of that doctor's hospital, and a second opinion from a physician from a different facility in Worcester and who was not involved in Avianna's treatment, Ms. Goodwin said.

"The court heard testimony from six expert medical professionals who all concurred with the recommendation to withdraw" sustaining medical support and issue a "do not resuscitate" order, she said. One of the experts is the infant's guardian ad litem who is both a lawyer and a nurse, Ms. Goodwin said.

It was unclear how long the baby can survive without life support, but Ms. Goodwin said her death is not expected to be immediate.

The case recalls that of Haleigh Poutre, an 11-year-old girl who nearly died from alleged child abuse in 2005 in Westfield. DSS advocated for removing Haleigh from life support after she was diagnosed as being in an "irreversible vegetative state."

She was nearly removed from life support by the state after doctors had declared her condition hopeless. But she began to breathe on her own just as the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that she should be allowed to die.

The family has another child, a boy about 2 years old. DSS took custody of that child after the injury to his younger sister, Ms. Goodwin said.

Asked about any investigation into the older child's care, Ms. Goodwin said, "Right now we're just supporting the family through this difficult period."

An investigation by Worcester police into Avianna's injury is continuing, according to Timothy J. Connolly, a spokesman for District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. There are no criminal charges "at this time," he said.

The Worcester police special crimes unit believes the injuries, which occurred June 10, were caused by an accident, but that unit is looking into whether there was neglect. They have found no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved.

There was no answer early last evening at the second-floor apartment of Mr. Letourneau and Ms. Elliott. Two of their neighbors said they did not know the family well, mostly seeing them as they passed in the hall.

"They seemed loving to me," Autumn Vachon, 28, said, "just the way you speak to your child, act with your child. I had no reason to think otherwise."

Joe McDonald, another neighbor who said he had little contact with the family, said, "As far as I know they were good parents." He said the children appeared clean, he did not hear any yelling, and they took their children out with them a lot.

One neighbor said that in the past few days a sign was removed from the door of the family's apartment.

It read: "I love my baby. Don't smoke."
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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