Parents of a comatose five-year-old are attempting to move their child to Italy from a London hospital after doctors in the United Kingdom declared any further medical treatment to be futile and ordered the removal of “life-sustaining treatment.”
Tafida Raqeeb has been in a coma since February 9, after she suffered from a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which resulted in a burst blood vessel in her brain. Her parents said she was “completely healthy” prior to the injury.
On July 16, her parents asked the High Court in London to allow her to leave the country.
AVM is a rare condition that can occur anywhere in the body, and consists of tangled blood vessels and arteries. Its cause is unknown, and the malformed blood vessels are thought to have been present since birth.
The AVM triggered cardiac and respiratory arrest, as well as a traumatic brain injury. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital say there is no chance she will recover from her coma.
According to the Barts Health NHS Trust, which administers the Royal London Hospital, doctors have determined that “further invasive medical treatment is futile.” Two doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa, Italy, however, disagree. They were able to examine Tafida via a video link on Friday, and they agreed to care for her in Italy. They said they did not believe her to be brain dead.
“Brain death” is usually defined as the irreversible loss of all functions of the brain, including the brainstem, and is marked by a coma, lack of reflexes, and the inability to breathe without mechanical assistance. Once a person has been declared brain dead, they have no chance of recovery and are clinically considered deceased.
An online petition supported by the family requesting that Royal London Hospital allow Tafida to be transferred to Gaslini Children’s Hospital, insists that the child does not meet the clinical conditions of brain death and should remain on life support.
“Following extensive brain surgery at King’s College hospital, doctors informed her parents that she was brain dead and to consider making preparations for her funeral,” reads the petition.
“A brain stem test indicated that Tafida did not meet the qualification of ‘brain death’ as she made gasping movements and therefore could not be removed from the ventilator.”
Since then, Tafida has remained on a ventilator at Royal London Hospital. According to the family, a neurologist has declared her to be in a “deep coma,” from which she is beginning to emerge. Her parents say she is able to open her eyes and move her limbs, as well as being able to swallow and react to pain.
Tafida’s mother, Shelina Bergum, has said that doctors initially proposed giving Tafida a tracheostomy and allowing her to return home, to continue recovery.
“The medical team have now changed their mind and want to withdraw ventilation to end her life,” Bergum wrote as part of a separate online petition organized by the family.
Tafida's case follows similar campaigns by parents in the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, who were both terminally ill children in NHS care. In 2017, doctors sought to remove Charlie Gard from his ventilator, despite his parents’ wishes to transfer him to a hospital in New York City. He ultimately passed away in hospice at the age of 11 months, after life support was removed.
Less than a year later, the parents of Alfie Evans also objected to NHS attempts to remove his ventilator, saying they wished to move him to a hospital in Italy. Alfie’s life support was eventually removed, and he survived for five days breathing on his own before passing away shortly before his second birthday.