I’ve written thousands and thousands of blog posts over the year and 16 years’ worth of newspaper columns. Some of the stories enter your heart and never leave. Haleigh Poutre’s story was one of those stories.
Longtime readers will remember Haleigh from two years ago. She was the 11-year-old girl in Massachusetts who had been hospitalized after her stepfather allegedly burned her and beat her nearly to death with a baseball bat. Haleigh, in a coma, was kept alive by a feeding tube and ventilator. Doctors said she was “virtually brain dead” — in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services wanted to remove Haleigh’s feeding and breathing tubes. They called her “hopeless.” They called her condition “irreversible.”
As they moved to pull the plug, a miracle happened: She started breathing on her own.
Now, the Boston Herald reports that Haleigh Poutre–who turned 14 on Sunday–is now speaking about the unimaginable abuse she suffered:
Defying all odds, the brain-damaged Westfield girl who was days away from a state order to remove her from life support in 2006 is now communicating information about the horrific abuse that nearly killed her, according to new court documents.
Although once thought to be brain-dead, Haleigh Poutre, who turned 14 on Sunday, is now ‘making statements alleging abuse” by her stepfather Jason Strickland, according to a motion filed in Hampden Superior Court last month by Strickland’s attorney, Alan Black of Springfield.
Haleigh is recovering at a Brighton rehabilitation hospital, where her condition has reportedly vastly improved since the legal battle over her life captured national headlines in 2006.
Haleigh was beaten into a coma Sept. 11, 2005, allegedly at the hands of Strickland and his wife, Holli Strickland, Haleigh’s adoptive mother and biological aunt.
Black’s motion indicates that a 51A concerning Haleigh has been forwarded to him by Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett. A 51A is a report of abuse or neglect that can be filed with the Department of Social Services.
“This creates issues concerning competency and (Haleigh’s) ability to testify and recall events in light of her severe head trauma,” Black wrote in the motion that requests a new trial schedule be set so he has time to review the information and hire experts.
Bennett is not commenting on the case against Strickland.
Eight days after Haleigh’s near-fatal beating, DSS sought a court order allowing Haleigh to be removed from life support. Jason Strickland objected, but in January 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that DSS could remove Haleigh from life support. The next day, DSS announced that Haleigh was breathing on her own, and it had halted plans to remove her feeding tube.
News reports last year indicated that Haleigh could eat, write her name and flex muscles – all activities that doctors once said would never be possible.
As I’ve noted before, there is a powerful institutional motive for covering up Haleigh’s progress.
Don’t forget her.