Family of 2 Year old girl is fighting hospital over her organs

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By The New York Times

For more than two days, the 2-year-old girl has remained in a Brooklyn hospital bed, technically dead but hooked up to machines keeping her organs alive for other children.

Thaiya Spruill-Smith, who loved broccoli, Minnie Mouse and the movie “Space Jam,” was declared dead Friday evening at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center. When her death certificate is issued, it will say she died on Friday, two days after officials say her stepfather shook her violently.

But Thaiya’s actual death has been postponed, held up by a tug of war between her mother and her father. Her father, Terrell Smith, said cutting up his daughter would be desecration. Her mother, Teoka Spruill, wants her daughter’s organs to help others.

“I just think it would be a blessing for someone else’s family,” Ms. Spruill said in an interview on Sunday.

Even in death, Thaiya finds herself caught in a family struggle. Ms. Spruill and her family fault Mr. Smith for threats that have left them fearful of going to the hospital without a police escort. Mr. Smith and his family blame Ms. Spruill for failing to protect Thaiya.

Ms. Spruill’s husband, David Adams, 25, was charged with assault on Friday night after he admitted, investigators said, that he had shaken the girl and thrown her onto a bed. Charges will most likely be upgraded to murder if the medical examiner’s office rules the death a homicide, said Lupé Todd, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn district attorney.

But that will have to wait. Until Thaiya is disconnected from machines, everything is postponed — the autopsy, the funeral, the grieving. On Monday, the dispute is expected to move to Family Court. Ms. Spruill said she could prove she had sole custody, so the decision is hers. Mr. Smith said a judge would decide.

Mr. Smith, speaking by phone from near Thaiya’s hospital bed, said the idea of his daughter’s being cut up so parts of her could be distributed was too painful for him to bear.

“She was born with that, she’s going to be buried with that, her body, her eyes — it’s what makes her her,” Mr. Smith said. “My daughter was born with that, and she’s going to lie down with the same thing.”

Because Thaiya’s death is the subject of a criminal investigation, there will be an autopsy.

Mr. Smith, 26, and Ms. Spruill, who turns 25 on Monday, have known each other since grade school, Ms. Spruill said. In Ms. Spruill’s telling, Mr. Smith ran with a rough crowd and had little interest in Thaiya until Ms. Spruill married Mr. Adams last spring. In Mr. Smith’s telling, he was a doting father who fought continually for custody of his daughter, complaining to officials this summer that he feared she was being abused.

It was messy. In September, the city’s children’s protection agency moved Thaiya to the home of Diane Howard, Ms. Spruill’s grandmother, for four days while investigating abuse allegations. Thaiya was then returned home.

In October, Mr. Smith said, he was arrested after keeping Thaiya at his mother’s house in Red Hook for two weeks, saying she cried because she didn’t want to go back home. Ms. Spruill said she got an order of protection against Mr. Smith because he threatened to kill her. The case worked its way through Family Court, Mr. Smith said.

Meanwhile, Thaiya stayed with her mother and stepfather, in a one-bedroom apartment in the Tilden Houses in Brownsville.

On Wednesday morning, Thaiya ate Froot Loops and some yogurt. She watched “Space Jam.” Ms. Spruill, who said she was put on bed rest because of a complicated pregnancy, got ready to go to the housing office at the Tilden Houses to request a transfer to another housing project, where Mr. Smith would not know where to find her.

Thaiya started crying, because she wanted to go with her mom. But Thaiya could not walk that fast, and Mr. Adams was home. As Ms. Spruill left, Thaiya was still crying.

Ms. Spruill said she was gone for less than an hour. When she returned, she checked on her daughter, sleeping in the bedroom. Hours later, Thaiya got up, Ms. Spruill said. She was talking. Yes, she wanted some apple juice. No, she did not want any broccoli.

She did not eat anything that night. Thaiya fell asleep on the couch in the living room, which had been turned into a bedroom for Ms. Spruill and Mr. Adams. Early Thursday morning, Thaiya took a deep breath, so deep that it sounded as if she was trying to catch her breath after a hard run, and it woke up Ms. Spruill.

“I picked her up,” she said. “I laid her in the bed with me. I could feel her heart beating really fast.”

She called an ambulance just before 7 a.m. Ms. Spruill and Mr. Adams spent that day with the police. Ms. Howard, 65, a retired probation officer who raised Ms. Spruill after Ms. Spruill’s mother was shot and killed, said a gang member threatened her when she visited Thaiya. Ms. Howard said the police said they should visit Thaiya only with a police escort. Mr. Smith said he had never threatened anyone.

Thaiya never woke up. About 7:30 p.m. Friday, she was declared dead. That night, Ms. Spruill and Ms. Howard said, they got a police escort to the hospital. Ms. Spruill spent an hour next to Thaiya’s bed. Ms. Spruill said she told Thaiya over and over again that she loved her, even though her daughter could not hear a thing, even though her head was cool to the touch. “I wanted to hold her, but I didn’t get a chance to,” she said.

Ms. Spruill and Ms. Howard said they immediately agreed to donate Thaiya’s kidneys, heart, lungs, pancreas and liver.

“It’s the right thing, to help someone else,” Ms. Howard said. “And 14 months later, we get to meet the families of the kids who get the organs, which is wonderful. Someone will be living with Thaiya.”

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