Bud Kennedy

January 2, 2014

First heartbreak, now help for a father as his pregnant wife lingers on life support

Crowley firefighters and online supporters rally around a firefighter-paramedic amid national debate over his wife’s pregnancy.

We might not agree what’s best for Marlise Munoz, the Haltom City mother on life support in John Peter Smith Hospital.

But at least some people are trying to help.

Munoz, 33, is pregnant. Under the laws of Texas, she must be kept alive, even though her family says she has never regained consciousness and shows no brain activity since collapsing at home Nov. 26.

Her case has been argued by doctors and ethicists nationwide, both in hospitals and on national TV networks.

The debate: Does sustaining an 18-week pregnancy override the Munoz family’s wish to take her off life support?

While her firefighter husband, Erick Munoz, 26, waits for answers and cares for a 14-month-old son, Mateo, friends are helping with family needs and the hospital bill.

The Crowley Professional Firefighters Association started the first benefit drive. Erick Munoz is a firefighter and paramedic in Crowley, and Marlise Munoz worked at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

Association vice president Tim Whetstone is well aware of the political storm surrounding both the end of life and the beginning.

“Erick is a close friend and a good brother of mine,” Whetstone said Thursday.

“We are here to support him emotionally and politically. We are not taking a position on right to life.”

Both Erick Munoz and Marlise’s mother, Lynne Machado, of rural Parker County, have said they were prepared to end life support and were surprised to learn they couldn’t.

A 1981 law spells out that hospitals must sustain any patient who is pregnant, no matter the patient’s condition or how early the pregnancy may be.

Machado told KXAS/Channel 5 she is heartbroken to see her daughter in limbo: “No family should have to go through this.”

Erick Munoz has said that both he and Marlise have said they would not want to be kept alive artificially.

“We know what her wishes were,” he told WFAA/Channel 8.

Writing for NBC News, ethicist Art Caplan of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City said Texas law should step aside and honor the family’s wishes.

“Even in their desire to protect fetal life,” he wrote, “the way the law has been written forces care in situations where the fetus is either not able to live or may be severely impaired.”

But we really don’t know that yet.

Doctors in JPS’ intensive care unit continue to monitor the baby’s heartbeat daily and will know more in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Munozes live with daily uncertainty and grief.

“Erick knows everyone has opinions one way or the other,” Whetstone said, saying he has tried to discourage him from reading the flame wars from both political sides on websites.

“We’re just trying to get a family some help.”

Crowley firefighters have collected about $7,000 to help the Munozes.

No matter what happens, there eventually will be a hospital bill. So an online benefit drive began Thursday at the website gofundme.com.

This is about more than one life.

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