Texas parents go to court to keep 9-year-old daughter on life support

The attorney for Payton Summons says the family is hoping a hospital in New Jersey will take the girl.
by Dennis Romero /

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The family of 9-year-old Payton Summons is looking for a hospital that will keep her on life support.

Cook Children's Medical Center in Forth Worth, Texas, said in a statement Sunday that the girl was brain dead "under Texas law" and that "a person is considered dead when they have suffered an irreversible loss of all brain function" — as in Payton's case.

Based on an initial finding of "zero brain activity," the hospital stated that it planned to undertake a second brain death exam before making an official declaration that the girl had passed away.

But that was before her family objected both to the hospital and via a civil filing. Now Payton is breathing with the help of a ventilator machine and a Texas judge, who granted a 14-day temporary restraining order (TRO) Monday that prevents the hospital from "disconnecting the life sustaining support from Payton."

Image: Payton Summons
Payton SummonsCourtesy Summons Family

"It's the best news since everything happened," Payton's mother, Tiffany Hofstetter, told NBC News affiliate KXAS in Dallas-Fort Worth. "There was a huge weight taken off my shoulders and I actually felt like I could breathe."

A hearing on reconsideration of the order was scheduled for Friday. In the meantime the parents are focusing on a few hospitals in New Jersey that might take Payton, said family attorney Justin Moore.

He said the girl's mother, who is Christian, raised a religious objection to taking Payton off life support.

"New Jersey allows for a religious exemption," he said. "In Texas, brain death is considered death."

Asked about how the law applies to Payton's case, the hospital said through a spokeswoman Tuesday that it could no longer comment on the case.

"We were informed in the last hour that the HIPAA [privacy law] authorization we previously received from this family has been revoked," hospital spokesperson Kim Brown said via email to NBC News on Tuesday evening.

Payton was rushed by paramedics to the hospital one week ago after she went into cardiac arrest. She stopped breathing. First responders conducted CPR and doctors at Cook Children's revived her heartbeat, according to the hospital.

But her breathing did not return, and it was restarted only with the aid of a ventilator, hospital officials said.

Moore said Payton had an undetected cancerous growth, know as a Wilms tumor, that grew behind her heart. It caused the cardiac arrest, he said. An attorney for the hospital told KXAS that the growth was crushing the girl's heart and lungs.

Image: Payton Summons
Payton SummonsCourtesy Summons Family

The hospital began the process of declaring Payton dead, but agreed to a four-day delay after the parents expressed their objections, according to an earlier statement from the institution. The declaration of death — and the end of life support — could have taken place Monday without the Texas court's intervention.

Moore said the family has no regrets about forcing a pause.

"The hospital told the family the organs would have failed by now," he said. "But they're in the same condition they were when she entered the hospital."

The parents believe Payton will recover.

"In time we believe all things will regenerate and she will be, with therapy, of course, back to her normal self," Moore said.

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