03.29.09

Last night I was asked to speak at the annual gathering of LAMBDA Legal in Southern Florida.  Some 300 supporters of LAMBDA Legal were there.  It has been an extremely emotional weekend – from meeting Jerry, the keeper of Lisa’s heart to recounting what happened to our family at Jackson Memorial in Miami.  I was so exhausted by the end of the events last night I was unable to post my speech.  But now with a few hours of sleep.  I will post it now.  I so appreciate the support and comfort from all those that heard me speak last night and gave me the strength to once again to step forward and tell what happened to our family.

Here is my speech: *Given at the Bonnet House in Ft. Lauderdale, FL on 03.29.90*

Hello, I am Janice Langbehn.  I know that many of you here tonight have heard the story of our family and the horrible treatment our family received at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

On February 18, 2007, Lisa Pond, my partner of nearly 18 years and 3 of our 4 adopted children: Danielle, David and Katie were on board the Rfamily cruise preparing to set sail.  Before leaving port, Lisa suddenly collapsed while watching the children play basketball. The kids were banging on the stateroom door saying, “Mommy was hurt!”  I opened the door, and took one look at Lisa and knew the situation was very serious.  As a medical social worker for many years, I have seen people in critical condition.  I knew that my life partner was gravely ill.  As the ship was about to leave, we had no choice but to seek medical help in an unfamiliar city. After local medics arrived, we hurried off the ship to the closest hospital in Miami, Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

As Lisa was put into the ambulance I had no idea when she signed “I love you” to the kids and I it would be the last time I would see her beautiful blue eyes.  We arrived at the trauma center minutes before her ambulance. I tried to follow her gurney into the trauma area and was stopped by the trauma team and told to go to the waiting room.  The kids and I did as we were told.

We arrived shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon, around 4pm, a social worker came out and introduced himself as Garnet Frederick and said, “you are in an anti-gay city and state. And without a health care proxy you will not see Lisa nor know of her condition”.  He then turned to leave; I stopped him and asked for his fax number because I said “we had legal Durable Powers of Attorney” and would get him the documents. Within a short time of meeting this social worker, I contacted friends in Lacey, WA, our hometown, who went to our house and faxed the legal documents required for me to make medical decisions for Lisa.

I never imagined as I paced that tiny waiting room that I would not see Lisa’s bright blue eyes again or hold her warm, loving hands.  Feeling helpless as I continued to wait, I attempted to sneak back into the trauma bay but all the doors to the trauma area had key codes, preventing me from entering. Sitting alone with our luggage, our children and my thoughts, I watched numbly as other families were invited back into the trauma center to visit with loved ones.  I was still waiting to hear what was happening with Lisa, realizing as the time passed that I was not being allowed to see her and if the social worker’s words were any indication it was because we were gay. Anger, despair and disbelief wracked my brain as I tried to figure out a way to find out what was going on with Lisa.  I finally thought to call our family doctor back in Olympia (on a Sunday afternoon at home) to see if she could find out what was happening. While on the phone with our doctor in Olympia, a surgeon appeared.  The surgeon told me that Lisa, who was just 39 years old, had suffered massive bleeding in her brain from an aneurysm.  A short while later, two more surgeons appeared and explained the massive bleed in Lisa’s brain gave her little chance to survive and if she did it would be in a persistent vegetative state.  Lisa had made me promise to her over and over in our 18 years together to never allow this to happen to her.  I let the surgeons know Lisa wishes, which were also spelled out in her Living Wills and Advance Directive.  I was then promised by the doctors that I would be brought to see Lisa as “soon as she was cleaned up”.  At that point all life saving measures ceased and I asked that she be prepared for organ donation.

Yet, the children and I continued to wait and wait.  A Hospital Chaplain appeared and asked if I wanted to pray and I looked at her dumbfounded as if I hadn’t already been doing that for over four hours.  I immediately asked for a Catholic Priest to perform Lisa’s Last rites.  A short time later, A Catholic priest escorted me back to recite the Last Rites and it was my first time in nearly 5hrs of seeing Lisa.  After seeing her I knew the children needed to see her immediately and be able to say their goodbyes and begin the grieving process.  Yet the priest escorted me back out to the waiting room.  Where I was faced with the young faces of our beautiful children to explain “other mommy” was going to heaven. 

I continued to assert my self over the ensuing hours again that we needed to be with Lisa.  I even showed the Admitting clerk the children’s birth certificates with both Lisa and my name on them… and said if you won’t let me back, let her children be with her. I was told they were “too young”.  I thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your mother?

In nearly eight hours, Lisa lay at Ryder Trauma Center moving toward brain death – completely alone and I continue to this day to feel like a failure for not being there to hold her hand to tell her how much we loved her, to comfort her and to sign in her hand “I love you”. All my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Lisa’s sister arrived driving straight from Jacksonville as soon as I knew Lisa would not survive.  She announced who she was and I was at her side staring at the same person who had been denying me access all those hours. It was only then that I was told Lisa had been moved almost an hour earlier to ICU… and the hospital just kept the children and I waiting in the same waiting room, where Lisa was not even at.

On Monday February 19, 2007 at 10:45am, Lisa was officially declared Brain Dead.  It was then that individuals from individuals from the Organ Donation Agency became involved (who I must point out are completely separate professionals from Jackson Memorial Hospital) that I finally was validated as Lisa’s spouse.  They asked me which organs she wanted donated.  And through this tragedy Lisa saved 4 lives and those at the gathering last night met Jerry, the keeper of Lisa’s heart.  Her heart could not be in better hands and I am so grateful and humbled to have met him in person.

Please let me tell you about our Lisa.  She and I met in 1988, became a couple in June 1989 and had a holy union in 1991.  We were foster parents for the state of Washington since 1992 – fostering 25 children and eventually adopting 4 children.  Lisa chose to quit her state position as a social worker to devote all her time and energy to our foster and adoptive children because of their special needs. Lisa was involved in every aspect of our children’s lives from volunteering in their classrooms every week and even sitting on PTSA for 2 years.  She became our daughters GS Troop leader and her troop swelled to almost 30 girls because she was so popular.  She taught our children community service through delivery of meals at the holidays to those that were not able to leave their homes.  She taught first communion classes at our church and taught children’s Mass on Sundays.  Many grief books say we often canonize those that have died, but I don’t need to because Lisa was a Saint among us.

For nearly 7 months after Lisa’s death, I contacted Jackson Memorial and asked for an apology and it also fell on deaf ears and it was only then that I contacted LAMBDA legal. 

Making the call to LAMBDA legal in Atlanta has been a life changing experience for the children and I.  I am so grateful that Greg Nevins and Beth Littrell in the Atlanta office had the wisdom to see the injustice of what happened to our family.  I am beyond grateful to Lambda staff and donors for helping our case move forward in the courts.  Without Lambda legal, our story may have been only a one-time headline and likely little would have changed.  Already, my own health plan in WA state – Group Health Cooperative, has written a letter to our family saying they reviewed all their internal policies to make sure that what happened to our family in Miami would never happen in a Group Health Facility.  Many other municipalities and County facilities have see how inhumane we were treated and taken it upon themselves to review and change policies. 

As I close tonight, I want to thank our wonderful children who have come along this difficult journey with me: Danielle, David and Katie.  I want to personally thank Beth Littrell and Don Hayden of Baker and McKenzie who are the lead attorneys on our case and all their associates.  I know our case is in the best of hands.

Also the entire Lambda staff from Rick Hill, who has been so gentle and caring to our family’s needs and made possible the meeting between Jerry, the keeper of Lisa’s heart, and our family.  That was time that I will always cherish – thank you Rick.

Thank you to Lambda Board Members, Donors and Sponsors because if it wasn’t for your commitment to support our family, I wouldn’t have known were to turn to seek Justice so that no other family has to go through what we did.  I have said since the beginning that saying goodbye to Lisa is not a “gay right” but a human right – and JMH stole that from our children, Lisa and I and we can never get that back.  Hopefully through your wonderful work, we can make sure this doesn’t ever happen again.

You are always welcome to follow our family on our blog to watch our beautiful children grow and keep up with our fight for justice and change. Thank you for your time and listening.

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