Yesterday, I met a dead woman. Her death certificate was signed on September 20th, but her family contends she is still alive.
That’s why 27-year-old Taquisha McKitty has spent the past six weeks plugged into a ventilator at Brampton Civic Hospital. Her family has won several court injunctions to keep it that way until at least November 30th, when they’ll next be in court.
CityNews has been covering Taquisha’s story and her family’s attempts to have her death certificate revoked for nearly a month. I’ve heard hours of testimony from physicians who say Taquisha meets the clinical standards for the neurological definition of death. She is what’s commonly known as brain dead.
A Brampton court has heard from outside experts about her condition, and nearly every one (save for one dissenting voice who was disqualified as an expert witness) has said that Taquisha is dead. But her family has been steadfast in their belief that she is alive.
When I first learned of Taquisha’s situation, her family showed me cellphone videos they took of her moving her torso and thumb on command. I’ve seen their shaky footage of her legs moving. And I’ve heard her cousins, aunts, friends and parents speak about their deep belief that she is alive and her consciousness is somewhere still in her body.
Taquisha was brought to Brampton Civic Hospital on September 14th. A mother to a nine-year-old girl, she suffered an overdose. Toxicology reports would later reveal traces of cocaine, marijuana and oxycodone in her system. She has never regained consciousness.
After so many weeks of hearing about her from afar, I needed to see her myself, and to understand why her family believes there’s hope in the face of so much opposition. So I paid her a visit.
I went to Taquisha’s hospital room with her father, Stanley Stewart, on Tuesday night. While I was there, she moved – a lot. She seemed especially responsive when her father and cousin spoke to her, or when her father and I were talking about her, or when he tried to move her legs. She seemed to reposition herself in her bed, curl her toes and move her limbs.
Physicians say that Taquisha’s movements are not unheard of in individuals who are brain dead, and are caused by spinal cord reflexes. They are leftover movements and not indicative of brain activity. That may be so, but I can see why her family believes she is still very much in her body. She still grows hair, still bleeds and still has a beating heart. I shared my initial impressions immediately after I left the hospital.
— Cristina Howorun (@CityCristinaH) November 7, 2017
While I visited, I was also struck by the kindness of the medical staff that came into Taquisha’s room.
Erica Baron, a lawyer for one of the physicians who declared Taquisha dead, has argued that taking care of a dead person has been taking a toll on staff. She said there were concerns about the pressures it was placing on nurses.
The nurse who greeted Taquisha’s father and I was reassuring. She briefed Stewart on his daughter’s medical status, and when an alarm went off to change her intravenous drip bag, the nurse was in the room within moments. She showed compassion and understanding and she was treating Taquisha like a live patient, not merely a body.
The scientific evidence around Taquisha’s diagnosis is still being debated in court, and I’m not claiming that Taquisha is alive or dead. But after my visit, I can see why her family and friends have hope — misplaced or not — that she will wake up.