A Healthy Baby Girl Is Born To a Brain-Dead Mother, 20
Published: November 16, 1997

ROCHESTER, Nov. 15— A woman declared brain-dead about four months into her pregnancy gave birth to a premature, but healthy, girl. Twenty minutes later, doctors removed her from life-support machines and she died.

Doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital here decided to deliver 20-year-old Lisa Nottingham's daughter on Friday because Ms. Nottingham's condition had become unstable over the last week and she had developed infections. Specialists estimate that after 28 weeks in the womb, a newborn's chances of survival increase to more than 90 percent. The baby was born at 31 weeks.

The infant, who was 15 1/2 inches long and weighed 3 pounds 3 ounces at birth, was delivered by Caesarean section. She was placed on a ventilator because of her immature lungs, the doctors said.

''It is such a wonderful baby,'' said JoAnn Nottingham, the infant's grandmother. ''She looks just like her mother did when she was born.''

Mrs. Nottingham spent Thursday night with her daughter in the hospital.

''I knew it would be the last night I could,'' she told The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester. ''I held her hand and talked to her and hugged her and kissed her as much as I possibly could. I just didn't want to let go.''

Ms. Nottingham lived in Brockport, 18 miles west of Rochester. The man who is believed to be the father asked not to be involved, a family lawyer, Gary Levine, has said.

The woman's parents, who are divorced, withdrew a court petition in September that sought the right to remove their daughter from life support after she suffered a brain hemorrhage in early August.

Doctors expect the baby to remain hospitalized for at least four to six weeks.

''In retrospect, it was a very positive event in a very sad situation,'' said Dr. James R. Woods, who headed the team that delivered the baby. After the baby's grandmother and step-grandmother held the infant, ''I walked down the hall and cried,'' Dr. Woods said.

There are a few neurological concerns, but nothing unusual for a premature baby born at her stage of development, said Dr. Robert Swantz, associate director of newborn intensive care services at the Rochester hospital.

Ms. Nottingham was placed on a ventilator 16 weeks into her pregnancy. Doctors said at the time that keeping the mother alive for a few more weeks would profoundly increase the chance of the fetus surviving. It turned out to be more than 14 weeks.

The hearts of brain-dead patients usually cannot be kept pumping for more than 10 weeks, but younger patients have been kept alive longer, due, in part, to medical technology developed over the last 30 years, doctors said.

In the weeks leading up to the baby's birth, nurses kept constant watch over Ms. Nottingham, turning her frequently so her skin would not deteriorate.

''We would rub her stomach and play music for the baby to try to give it the external stimulation that it would have normally gotten,'' said Cherri Witscheber, one of six nurses who cared for her.