Tonight I took part in a community forum with Equality Florida, Save Dade and Lambda Legal. For the first time individuals from Jackson Memorial employees were present to here our story first hand. It is never easy to speak of Lisa’s death. But as I always do, here is the remarks I gave tonight. Thank you to all the wonderful participates, panel members and community members for turning out and hearing what happened to our family and how we move to improve policies and the like at JMH.
Good evening, I am Janice Langbehn and I want to thank Equality Florida, Save Dade and of course Lambda Legal for inviting me to speak tonight.
Some of you may have heard our story, In February 2007, my partner Lisa Pond and I arrived here in Miami with three of our adopted children to celebrate our 18 years together and realize a family dream with a week long vacation on Rfamily Cruise to the Bahamas.
As we boarded the Norwegian Jewel – we took a beautiful picture of the kids with Kelli O’Donnell. We also took a family picture; little did I know that would be our last family photo.
Lisa took Katie, David and Danielle to the Basketball court and I unpacked our stateroom and only 20 minutes later, the kids were banging on the stateroom door – “mommy was hurt” and I thought to myself – “she must have sprained her ankle -she can be such a clutz”. I opened the door and took one look at Lisa and knew it was very serious. Having been a hospital and ER social worker, I knew my partner was gravely ill. As the ship was about to leave, we had no choice but to seek medical help in an unfamiliar city.
Lisa was transported to Ryder Trauma Center at JMH while the kids and I followed in a cab. We arrived at Ryder at about the same time around 3:30 on that Sunday afternoon. I tried following Lisa’s gurney to the trauma bay but was stopped by the trauma team and told to go to the waiting room, which we did.
Around 4pm, Mr. Garnett Frederick appeared saying he was a social worker and then warned me I was in an “anti-gay city and state and would not get to see Lisa nor know of her condition without a health care proxy” and turned to leave. I called him back and said I have those documents and that I wanted his fax number. I still have the small piece of paper he ripped out of his notebook where he wrote his name and fax number.
I immediately reached close friend in Olympia, WA who raced to our house and found all our legal documents including our durable power of attorney, Living Will and Advanced Directives and faxed them to the hospital with in minutes of my conversation with Mr. Frederick.
I never imaged 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 sneak back into the trauma bay but all the doors 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 to see their loved ones.
A little after 5pm, after waiting almost 2 hours and not even knowing what was wrong with Lisa, I finally called our family doctor back in Olympia that Sunday afternoon. I reached Dr. Ball at her home and explained that I was told I was an anti gay city and state and didn’t know what was happening and begged her to call the hospital to find out something. As I was talking to her, a doctor appeared and told me that Lisa, just 39 years old and healthy, had suffered a massive cerebral aneurysm. He turned and left – not waiting to see if I had any questions. It was Dr. Ball who explained to me what was occurred as I stood there in shock.
Around 6pm, 2 more doctors appeared and brought me into a quiet room and explained that the massive and fast bleed in Lisa’s brain gave her little chance to survive and if she did it would be in a persistive vegetative state. Lisa had made me promise to her over and over in our 18 years together to never allow his to happen to her. I let the surgeons know Lisa wishes, which were also spelled out in her living will. I then pleaded with the 2 doctors to let me see Lisa and they said I could once she was “cleaned up”. They left me and never spoke to me again. I then had to face our children and as I was preparing to tell them about their “other mom” a
a female pastor saw me and asked if I wanted to pray – and I looked at as if she were her crazy – thinking “what the hell did she think I had been doing for nearly 3 hours” I immediately asked for a priest to do Lisa’s last Rites. Not too much time later a priest appeared and escorted me back to the Trauma area – to where Lisa was lying, restrained to her gurney, with tubes, monitors, and IV’s everywhere. I recited the litany of saints and watched over as Lisa’s Last Rites were performed and the priest escorted directly back to the waiting room. After performing the last rights, I knew I had to do the hardest thing I would be called upon as a mother and tell our children that other mom was going to heaven.
I brought our 3 wonderful children into the quiet room, alone because the priest and chaplain had also disappeared. I told them that other mommy was dying and she would go to heaven but before she went, I wanted to donate her organs so she could help other people like she wanted. I told them I would get them back to see their “other mom”. I think our kids knew on some level what had been happening for the past 3.5 hours. Katie curled up in the corner and began sucking her thumb and David just held my hand and Danielle stared numbly at the floor.
The real tragedy began at about 7pm that night as we continued to wait for someone to bring us back to be with Lisa. I knew she was alone, with no active traumas in the trauma bays I would ask the clerk who repeatedly brushed me off and told me to go sit down. Finally in desperation I showed her the kids birth certificates and showed them that Lisa was their mother. I told her the kids needed to say goodbye before their mother died and I was told “no” they were too young. I was dumbfounded and thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your dying mother who is 20 feet away. In those ensuing hours Lisa lay at Ryder trauma center, not being actively worked on, in a curtained area restrained, alone and moving towards brain death. And we were not there to hold her hand and tell her how much she was loved.
Jackson memorial and it’s staff that night in their inability or unwillingness to recognize us as a family, with legally adopted children FORCED Lisa to be alone in her last moments of life. In those hours of waiting and trying to calm our children I felt like a failure than and still do today for not getting to be with Lisa or bring our children to her to hold her hand.
Finally around 11:30 that night – 8 hours after the kids and I arrived at Ryder, Lisa’s sister arrived from Jacksonville – driving straight to Miami when I called her 7 hours earlier. When she arrived at Ryder trauma center – I brought her in like a trophy I admit this now – saying here is Lisa’s sister. And the admitting clerk then said – oh Lisa Pond – we moved her an hour ago to the ICU. As if the mistreatment we received as a family couldn’t get worst – they moved Lisa to another part of the hospital and keep us in wrong waiting room for over an hour.
This nurse at the ICU was reluctant to allow us to visit but Lisa’s sister was insistent and she was successful to get us in for a short amount of time along with the kids, by this time the restraints were off and Lisa was in a deep coma.
My partner, my soul mate, the love of my life died officially the next morning at 10:45am on February 19, 2007. The doctors who pronounced her brain dead, never came to speak to me or answer my questions.
It was only after the individuals from LAORA became involved that I was validated as a spouse and partner. They talked directly with me and allowed me to sign all documents and choose which organs and tissues to donate. From Lisa’s death – 4 people’s lives were saved. And I have to tell you we have been so fortunate to meet Jerry who received Lisa’s heart a I can say her heart is in the best of hands.
Today 2 yrs and 9 months ago after Lisa’ death that I am gaining perspective and with that insight has come anger and disbelieve for how we were treated by the social worker and staff at JMH. Lisa and I had become foster parents for the state of WA at just 22 and 23 years old. We fostered 25 children and adopted 4 special needs children. Lisa became the stay at home mom and threw herself in to the lives of our children from being on PTSA, teach their 1st communion classes to being our girls Girls Scout Leader for 8 years. Often grief books say we canonize those that die, but I don’t need to Lisa was truly a Saint among us.
I so believe that any family – however they define themselves has the HUMAN right to be together at time of death. Yet in our situation not only were we not validated but also we were shunned. All because as Mr. Frederick made it very clear I was in an anti gay city/state.
The pain does not end there, more salt that JMH has rubbed into our family wounds was the day I returned back to WA for Lisa Memorial Mass, I received noticed that JMH filed a lien against her property since we were out of state residents – despite the fact our health plan paid for all her care until she became a organ donor, which was then covered by UNOS. JMH has never lifted that lien. I cannot get a death certificate from the State of Florida. I also filed a compliant specifically with JMH against mr. Frederick in March 07 which was lost until july 07 which to today has never been addressed or resolved.
So through my helplessness and my pleas for an apology fell on deaf ears at JMH for 6 month I turned to Lambda Legal. Making that call was a life changing experience and through their wisdom they saw the injustice done to our family and proceeded to file the lawsuit against JMH seeking change so this situation would never happen to another family.
My hope for bringing the suit against JMH was to shed light on how our families are treated even with the proper paperwork. And often we can be treated like second-class citizen. I have tried since Lisa’s death to raise awareness that holding your loved one’s hand as they are dying in not a gay right or privilege for only some in our country but rather a basic human right for every family regardless of how they define.
In September this year our family was dealt a huge blow when Judge Jordan sided with the hospital and dismissed our lawsuit. I however found some words of encouragement in Judge Jordan’s opinion when he wrote in his opinion:
“If the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, which I assume that they are when deciding the defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the defendants’ lack of sensitivity and attention to Ms.Langbehn, Ms. Pond, and their children caused them needless distress during a time of vulnerability. The defendants’ failure to provide Ms. Langbehn and her children frequent updates on Ms. Pond’s status, to allow Ms. Langbehn and her children to visit Ms. Pond after emergency medical care ceased; to inform Ms. Langbehn that Ms. Pond had been transferred to the intensive care unit, and to provide Ms. Langbehn Ms. Pond’s medical records as she requested, exhibited a lack of compassion and was unbecoming of a renowned trauma center like Ryder. Unfortunately, no relief
is available for these failures based on the allegations plead in the amended complaint.”
So as I refocuse and move from a Plaintiff to an activitst I want you to remember my partner Lisa and our children were forever changed by JMH and it’s staff the night that Lisa was in their care. Lisa died completely alone even with us 20 feet away, it was unhuman and demands change. It is my duty to continue to speak out that this nevery happens to another family. What they put our family through was wrong, insensitive and a defining moment for my family that can never be replaced or forgiven. And the justice we sought through our country’s legal sytstem also family failed us, so the laws in the state and the nation must change.