Grieving Won't Start Until Pregnant Woman Off Life Support, Family Says

"Our daughter is not there, yet we see her body," says the woman's mother.

December 25, 2013, 3:06 PM

Dec. 25, 2013— -- Marlise Munoz may be brain dead and on life support against her family's wishes, but her family will still visit her in the hospital on Christmas, her mother said.

It's a confusing time for Munoz's parents, husband and young son, Lynne Machado, Munoz's mother, told

"We're kind of caught in this limbo in our minds," she said. "Our daughter is not there, yet we see her body."

Munoz, a 33-year-old paramedic, had told her husband and parents that she never wanted to be on life support, Machado said.

But because Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when a suspected pulmonary embolism left her brain dead, the hospital had to follow a Texas law that forbids them from withdrawing life support until the baby is born or Munoz miscarries.

"It's very frustrating because we know what our daughter wanted, and we're not about to honor that because of this law," Machado said. "The grieving process as a whole for me and my husband and Erick won't happen until she's off life support."

The baby isn't due until May, Machado said. It's too soon to know whether Munoz's lack of oxygen hurt the fetus, too.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a senior medical contributor for ABC News and a practicing ob-gyn, said she's cared for similar patients. She said they often go into spontaneous labor, expelling the fetus as their own bodies become unstable despite life support.

Munoz got out of bed in the middle of the night before Nov. 26 because the couple's 14-month-old son, Mateo, began crying, Machado said. When the baby continued to cry and Munoz didn't return, Erick, Munoz's firefighter husband, got up, too. That's when he found Munoz on the kitchen floor. She was not breathing and had no pulse. Her skin had taken on a bluish color, Machado said.

Doctors suspect she had a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lungs, but they won't know until an autopsy can be performed, Machado said.

"It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," Erick Munoz told ABC News' Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA-TV.

Machado said family members won't fight the law until after her daughter is finally taken off life support. They know the hospital's hands are tied by the law, and don't blame the doctors for the situation. But they want the public to know that this can happen.

Although Internet commenters have made the family's situation into an abortion rights issue, Machado said the family has shared its story to educate the public about a law it had never known existed.

"Hopefully, no family has to go through this hell we've had to go through," she said.

It's been almost a month, and Christmas is especially difficult, Machado said. Munoz used to bake Christmas cookies and help decorate the house.

"She really brought Christmas to life," Machado said.

She said they're doing everything they can to make the holiday feel normal for Mateo. Because Mateo is so young, he can't visit his mother in the intensive care unit.

"He knows something's up," Machado said. "He'll look at the door, and he waits for his mom to come through the door. And that's just not going to happen."

But the firefighters in Crowley, Texas, who call Erick Munoz a "brother," banded together to offer as much support as they could. They've already brought him two truckfuls of donated baby food and clothing for Mateo, and have raised nearly $7,000 to help cover his wife's medical expenses.

"We're here to support Erick," said Lt. Tim Whetstone, the vice president of the local firefighters' union, 4182. "Everybody's come forward so far. People we know, people we don't know. Firefighters, not firefighters. They've all come forward and stepped up."

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