Revisiting A Tragedy, With A Hopeful Update

We now revisit an exceptionally sad story from a few years ago, with a hopeful update. In 2005, 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre became the subject of a highly publicized case of child abuse, and end of life decisions. At that time, Haleigh was hospitalized in what doctors said was an irreversible coma, believed to be the result of years of child abuse.

Boston Globe reporter Patricia Wen covered the story then. She says Haleigh’s guardian had convinced Massachusetts child welfare investigators that the girl was hurting herself.

“This obviously only then came into huge question and doubt, when she showed up on that one day in the emergency room of Noble Hospital with brain injuries that, physicians felt, nobody could do to themselves,” Wen says. “It was of a magnitude they said if a high speed car crash, something like that. You couldn’t do this to yourself, even if you threw yourself down the stairs.”

What followed was a drawn-out legal saga. Doctors at Baystate Medical Center believed Haleigh was in an irreversible vegetative state, and the state tried to get her removed from life support. But the day after the court agreed, doctors reported Haleigh was alert.

Today, she is 20 and living in western Massachusetts. Patricia Wen recently interviewed Haleigh’s new adoptive parents, Keith and Becky Arnett. Haleigh still has serious disabilities, but Wen says she seems to be in a very loving home.

MORE: Wen’s story in the Boston Globe, “A new life for Haleigh