Yusef Camp, the comatose, 9-year-old Washington boy whom D.C. government attorneys had asked a court to declare "brain dead" in the face of conflicting medical reports on his condition, died yesterday of cardiac arrest after he had been connected to life support systems for four months at D.C. General Hospital.
The boy's court-appointed legal guardian, attorney John F. Mahoney Jr., said that Yusef, whose breathing was being maintained by a respirator but whose heart has continued beating on its own, suffered heart failure early yesterday afternoon. Despite efforts by members of the hospital staff to revive him, he was pronounced dead at 1:40 p.m.
A hospital spokesman refused comment on Yusef's death last night, saying the hospital would prepare a press release later today.
"I went to the hospital after work," said Yusef's grandmother Alice Camp, "and the door was shut like always. But then I went in the room and the bed was empty.I said, Lord God, he's gone."
Young Yusef, a slight, 4-footer who would have entered the fifth grade at Benning Elementary School this fall, fell into a coma in May after injesting an unknown quantity of drugs.
After his stomach was pumped at the hospital, doctors found a pickle, some candy, and a small quantity of marijuana. Later tests showed some traces of the hallucinogenic drug PCP, but were generally inconclusive. The source of the drugs was never positively identified.
In late August, doctor's reports revealed that Yusef's lungs and nasal passages had become infested with maggots and that his right foot and ankle were gangrenous.
Doctors also found that Yusef showed no response to noises, manipulation or painful stimuli and no spontaneous movement.Brain scans showed at the time that the boy was "brain dead," which means that his brain showed absolutely no activity.
Yusef, concluded one doctor, was "not only dead but actively decomposing."
Believing, in the words of a hospital spokesman, that "everything that could be offered [Yusef] Camp in the way of medical expertise has been offered but without desired results,"city attorneys asked D.C. Superior Court to declare the boy deceased and to authorize doctors at the hospital to discontinue life support systems.
The court action, the first of its kind in Washington, came after Yusef's parents had refused to authorize discontinuing the boy's treatment and had filed a negligence suit against the hospital. City attorneys said it was also designed to define when a person is legally dead in the District, a definition that is not now included in D.C. statutes.
Unlike about half the nation's states, which recognize brain death as a standard for declaring a person dead, the District, said on D.C. city attorney, "is behind science at this time . . . I don't think anyone should pull a plug until this matter is resoved."
Two later tests, one of which was conducted at the request of Yusef's parents, showed signs of spontaneous movements of the boy's head, body and limbs -- an indication that brain death had not occured.
I realize that several competent consultants have given the opinion that the patient is brain dead," wrote Children's Hospital neurologist Samuel A. tShelburne in a report to the court. "It is my clinical opinion . . . that the child is not brain dead."
Shelburne said that it was more appropriate to categorize Yusef's condition as "irreversible coma" or "vegetative state." He said Yusef's chances for recovery were virtually nil, however, and that "the child's quality of life (if he recovered) would be very poor."
After all we've gone through," said Alice Camp, "it's still like being in shock."