Last December, Attorney Teena Abraham answered her doorbell to find her neighbor standing in the cold. The neighbor asked "Teena can you help my niece, Lexi"
14-year-old Lexi Georgeff was diagnosed at birth with Chronic Neuropathic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction, a medical condition that prevented Lexi from eating. For 10 hours each night Lexi received her nutrition through IV’s. Receiving nutrition in this manner for a lengthy period of time however, can cause liver damage. Though in and out of hospitals for this disorder since birth, Lexi led a fairly normal and active life. In November of 2004 Lexi’s health drastically deteriorated. Lexi and her parents were informed by physicians that Lexi was in liver failure and that her other vital organs were shutting down. Lexi’s only hope for survival would be a multi-organ transplant of the liver, pancreas, stomach and intestines. Lexi’s doctors referred the family to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh because of their highly respected and specialized reputation for success in complex multi-organ transplants.
As the family explained to Abraham, Lexi was a Katie Beckett recipient, a state assistance program for children with long term illnesses. When the family requested the necessary approval for Lexi’s transplant in Pittsburg it was denied. They were told the surgery would have to be performed in Wisconsin. The family was frustrated that this life and death decision for their daughter was not theirs to make. Abraham set out to help.
First, Abraham reviewed the state’s General Assistance Statute to determine Lexi’s rights and whether the State could actually deny or limit the family’s choice of hospital. Abraham found that only under certain circumstances could the family’s request be denied.
Second, Abraham reviewed medical literature and detailed statistical comparisons between the Pittsburgh and Wisconsin hospitals. Abraham found that Pittsburgh was "qualified" as a transplant hospital by Medicare where the hospital in Wisconsin was not. To be "qualified" as a Medicare approved transplant hospital a hospital must perform a minimum number of transplants per year and have a greater than 50% success rate.
Abraham presented this information to the family and subsequently the state. The following day, Lexi’s request to have the transplant surgery performed in Pittsburgh was approved and Lexi left the following Monday for evaluation. Lexi’s was immediately placed at the top of Pittsburgh’s transplant list. Upon completion of the evaluation, Lexi’s family was informed by Pittsburgh’s transplant team that two very important issues had to be addressed upon their return home. The first, arrival at the Pittsburg Hospital had to be guaranteed within 6 hours of notification of a donor. Second, as Lexi would have to stay in Pittsburgh for up to 1 year following the surgery, fund-raising efforts would be necessary.
There was a very little time (3 ½ weeks) to organize and raise the money needed. With the assistance of Lexi’s aunt, Abraham organized a fund-raising event at a downtown Milwaukee nightclub. Music, martinis, food, and a "live" and silent auction! Companies had to be contacted from all over the country and persuaded to donate very large ticket items in order to raise the kind of money needed in such a short time. Abraham’s trial experience played a significant role in obtaining these items. As in a trial to a jury, Abraham had to present Lexi’s cause to the vendors, establish a relationship of trust with them, form creative arguments as to why Lexi’s cause was unique and finally to persuade the vendors to donate the very expensive items. The event was an overwhelming success!
On April 30, 2005, at about 6:30 p.m., Lexi was contacted. Donor organs were available. Lexi was escorted by sheriff to the airport where a volunteer pilot and plane waited to take her to Pittsburg. Lexi was prepped for a 4:30 a.m. surgery. A half hour before her scheduled surgery doctors determined that the organs were not viable and Lexi’s surgery was cancelled. Lexi arrived back in Milwaukee by 7:00 a.m. that same morning. Lexi’s condition grew more critical daily as she awaited her only hope for a future.
June 29, 2005, Lexi was contacted again. Another viable donor! Lexi and her family were so excited yet very scared. This time the surgery went underway! 2 hours into the surgery surgeons had to stop. Lexi’s body was too ravaged to undergo the transplant. Lexi died about an hour later cradled in the arms of her parents.
Abraham attended Lexi’s funeral, which focused on Lexi’s brave life, not her death. As Abraham recalls, Lexi’s fight for life caused people to "pause", and find a way to help someone in desperate need, because sometimes you just have to!