A teenager declared brain dead seven weeks ago but still connected to life-support systems went home Thursday to parents who insist she is alive and pray for a miracle recovery.
Teresa Hamilton's face was pale and her arms were crossed over her chest as she and her respirator were wheeled out of Sarasota Memorial Hospital into an ambulance that took the 15-year-old to her family's home.
"The fight will be done here," father Frederick Hamilton told reporters on his front lawn. "Now she's home where the sounds are familiar."
"It's just the feeling she's safe," added mother Sharon. "Nobody can go pulling the plug or anything else _ she can just stay here and gain her strength and get better."
Teresa was declared brain dead shortly after she lapsed into a diabetic coma Jan. 7. Since then, the Hamiltons have refused to accept doctors' verdict of death and insisted she remain connected to life support.
The parents had kept a 24-hour vigil over their daughter at the hospital, fighting a medical establishment that concluded there was nothing more to be done for her. Doctors had proposed removing her from life support and letting her die.
After weeks of discussions, the hospital gave in to the Hamiltons' entreaties to take Teresa home. While administrators believe it is unprecedented to keep a brain-dead person on life support this long, they are trying to accommodate the parents' wishes.
"There's been a lot of confusion about what hospitals can and cannot do in situations like this," said hospital spokesman Mike Vizvary. "We're trying to do the right thing, the compassionate thing."
The hospital bill for Teresa's care totals about $140,000, Vizvary said. Frederick Hamilton, an electrical engineer with the oil industry, is unemployed.
In her own room filled with fanciful pictures of unicorns, rainbows and goddesses, Teresa is surrounded by equipment that keeps her lungs filled with air and monitors her heartbeat.
Intravenous solutions deliver nutrition. Nurses hired by a private agency will watch her around the clock.
The teenager became ill after a New Year's Eve skating party and was admitted to the hospital with severe flu symptoms. Within hours, she lapsed into a coma.
Doctors say she quickly deteriorated into the final stage of brain death. Three brain scans have revealed no activity, and she meets all other tests for a legal declaration of death.
The girl's parents insist Teresa is not dead but merely has shut down her brain while she heals. They say she sometimes moves when they speak to her.