Hospital Patient Unidentified for Four Months

VIDEO: Rom Houben was believed to be in a coma for 23 years, but was in fact paralyzed.
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For four months, a woman known only as Jane Doe lay in a bed in a Philadelphia hospital, alive but unable to do anything other than involuntary actions.

Staff at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania didn't know her name or how old she was, although they estimated she was in her 40s. They also didn't know exactly how she came to be in what her doctor says is a persistent vegetative state.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, she was transferred to Penn from another Philadelphia hospital, where paramedics rushed her after finding her in cardiac arrest in a park. It took doctors 45 minutes to get her heart beating again.

Dr. Charles Baillie, an attending physician at Penn who's been treating the woman for about two weeks, said she did not get enough oxygen to her brain during the time it took to resuscitate her.

"She can still do spontaneous things, like open her eyes, but she has no higher-level functioning and can't do anything purposefully," said Baillie. The condition, he said, is permanent.

Months after hospital staff started the search for the woman's identity and loved ones, Baillie said Bateman had no identification with her when she was transferred from the other hospital, Aria Health's Frankford Campus. Because of her condition, hospital staff knew they had to identify their Jane Doe and find her family so they could determine how aggressively to treat her.

"The main concern was always that if something did happen, like a cardiac event, how aggressive would she have wanted to be and were we acting in a way she would have wanted," said Baillie. "The default action is that we act as if somebody would want us to be aggressive. It's always difficult to treat somebody if we have nobody to talk to about treatment."

With cases like this Jane Doe's, experts say it's vital to locate loved ones to make treatment decisions in the unidentified person's best interests. They also say there are many challenges when it comes to identifying and treating Jane or John Does because of regulations surrounding privacy and hospital responsibility.

Wide-Reaching Effort to Identify Jane Doe

Patricia Meehan, the hospital's associate director of clinical resource management and social work, spearheaded the effort to find the then-unidentified Bateman's relatives.

But before proceeding, the hospital was required to appoint a guardian who could make decisions on Bateman's behalf.

"We had a guardian put in place so we could continue to work on her behalf to try and find somebody," said Meehan. "From that point on, we worked with the guardian and asked if we could go to the media."

They first went to the media in September, but no one came forward. After that, Meehan said she and other social workers contacted numerous community organizations and mental health agencies. They also worked with the police department to get her photos circulated nationally.

At the same time, Bateman's relatives told the newspaper they were searching for her as well. They said they filed a missing persons report, but the Philadelphia Police Department claims to have no record of it. Relatives also say Bateman has a criminal record, including arrests for prostitution and drug possession, so her fingerprints were in the system.

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