July 8th, 2010
01:17 PM ET

Video: Should disabled mom be kept from kids?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Program Note: See Dr. Sanjay Gupta's full report on Abbie Dorn tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET.

I am not sure which instinct took over first. When I heard the story of Abbie Dorn, I remember listening with my "head" as a neurosurgeon, and also listening with my "heart" - as a dad. Like you probably will, I thought of Abbie's three children. I have three of my own.

Abbie was young, recently married, and wanting to start a family. It did not happen easily. She underwent IVF, and was finally told she was pregnant. Triplets. It was the most exciting day of her life. Abbie's mother told me all of this, because Abbie cannot. You see, something went terribly wrong during the delivery. There was bleeding, more than two liters. Abbie's heart failed, and for too long her brain went without oxygenated blood.

Abbie survived, but she was left in a state where she can barely move, cannot speak and only blinks her eyes. As you will see as I examine Abbie, it is this blinking that is now at the heart of a bitter legal controversy.

Abbie's parents, her therapist and her lawyer believe she is communicating through those blinks. They believe she is letting them know: "I want to see my children." Her husband, who has since divorced her, thinks otherwise. He thinks that there is no way she could be communicating, and that it would be damaging for the children to see their mother in this condition. He worries the triplets, who are now 4 years old, might one day blame themselves for what happened to her, at the time of their birth.

There are gray areas of medicine, and that is especially true when it comes to the brain. Doctors don't agree on Abbie's condition. And, now to try and settle this, medicine and the legal system will collide.

Of course, when sitting back and thinking about this whole situation, my dad instinct took over once again. I wondered if the focus regarding Abbie was misplaced. Regardless of her condition or her ability to communicate or interact, do her children have a right to see their mother? And, does Abbie have a right to be with her children. There are no easy answers, but I am eager to hear what you have to say.

Filed under: Sanjay Gupta
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Anna

    Seems like the children need specialists who work with children to defend their rights and explain that keeping them away from their mother does not protect them in any way. It will only hurt them more later on.
    If they learn who their mom is now, this will be their "normal". If they are kept away and learn later, it may cause more harm (however, no matter the timing, the children should see their mother).
    There are pediatric therapists and child life specialist who would be able to help the family prepare the children to see their mother and continue support.
    If the father truly believes what he is saying, he needs to be better educated about what is best for the children.

    March 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  2. Joyce Chelonis

    I think it would be o.k. for the kids to see their mom. and explain to them that she is ill or can't talk.

    July 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  3. steven

    This is one of the worst things I have heard in a long time. Was this man really ever a husband? She gave everything for the children. He wants no part of her now. Glad she has friends and family or he may have just thrown her away.

    July 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  4. Marilyn Tbeur

    This is a very sad and tragic story, and her husband has the gall to refuse the triplets from seeing their mum is beyond me! What happened to "for better or worse," pertaining to their vows? Maybe seeing those kids might snap her back to better health. His wife almost died, and now to prevent the kids from seeing their mother is wrong. How would he feel if the shoe was on the other foot? Think about that! Every kid has the right to see their mum and dad, except for situations that are detrimental to their well being.

    Marilyn Tbeur


    July 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  5. Al

    Both sides are wrong. The mother's side thinks it will help the mother. It won't. The father's side thinks it will harm the children. It won't.

    July 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  6. Suzanne

    Without a doubt these kids should see there mother. Kids can handle a lot more than you think and if he does not let them see their mother one day they are going to very very angry with him. He is not God and should not decide what is best for the kids. I can't believe he is so heartless. He is not helping his kids he is hurting them. May God soften his hard heart.

    July 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  7. LDM

    If these children had been visiting with their children since birth, they would be grow up understanding and accepting that their mother is disabled. As the mother of triplets, it is heartbreaking that the father is denying these children the opportunity to love and accept their mother. One day, he will pay the price when he has to explain to his adult children why he prevented them from seeing the mother who brought then into this world.

    July 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  8. K S Verdi, San Antonio, TX

    Somebody out there needs to be found who can fight for her visitation rights! This is outrageous!

    July 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  9. Kado

    It doesn't appear to me that the woman is really communicating. However, who are we to judge. 4 yr. olds would not be frightened if they were taken for a quick visit "to see a friend". Maybe a couple visits a year. When they're a little older, more could be explained. That way, they won't be upset that they were unable to visit her as they grew. Whatever her abilities, she is their mother and that relationship runs both ways. How would they feel if she died and they had never been to see her and couldn't recall her? I think the father is being unreasonable. It's not like she's horribly disfigured or a maniac.

    July 8, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  10. Diane N.

    They should absolutely be able to see their mom. He is being extremely cruel and for what reason? He ought to be jailed for neglect in not allowing the children to see their mother and to bond with her. For all anyone knows being with those children could heal her!! Stranger things have happend. The husband is a pig and should be investigated.

    July 8, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  11. Joyce

    It's terrible that her ex-husband has the right to refuse the triplets to see their mother. She nearly died giving birth and by all means should see them. It might help her. Why was he able to divorce her after giving him 3 children. NOT RIGHT! SO SAD!!!!
    Let them see their mom. Have a qualified doctor sit down and speak to the children first and explain to them what has happend, kids are smarted then you think and they deserve the right to no their mom.

    July 8, 2010 at 1:37 pm |