Patricia Tornberg and Steffen Rivenburg, Sr., thought they were going to court this morning, July 17, 2017, to try to bring Baby Steffen's big sister Annalise home to be with family members and out of foster care. Instead, the judge had them arrested and thrown into jail. Family members and supporters alike are shocked at the turn of events, and see this as another way for the court and DCS to grasp at any way to justify their actions and deflect attention away from their role in Baby Steffen's death. Last month (June 2017) Baby Steffen was taken off of life support against the wishes of his family, and before the family could find a second doctor's opinion regarding his condition. Baby Steffen was removed from his parents while still healthy, and yet the parents had no say over his medical care or removal from life support. Tennessee DCS also removed Baby Steffen's sister, Annalise, from the parents. Advocate Serra Frank told Health Impact News: "This judge is scrambling to get rid of this mess, and he's just making it worse." The hearing was supposed to be about hearing motions for Annalise to be placed with family members. Grandmother Lisa Rivenburg and two aunts, each willing and able to care for Annalise, were present at the hearing, but the motions were never heard. Judge Wayne Shelton reportedly stated that he did not intend to hear their motions. Instead, the focus turned to a motion filed on July 1 without the family's knowledge by Margaret Parker, attorney for DCS, to compel the parents to submit to drug testing.
Baby Steffen was buried on Friday, July 7, almost a month after his death when DCS, Vanderbilt hospital, and a judge decided to overrule his parents' rights to make decisions for their baby. The Tennessee family was thankful that Steffen's big sister was allowed to leave the foster home to attend her brother's funeral. Even so, social workers kept a tight reign on Annalise, and threatened to take her away if the family continued to take photos. The children's grandmother Lisa Rivenburg said it was their last time together as a family with Baby Steffen, and she felt that the social workers' threats were a cruel addition to an already difficult day. Their fight continues to try to bring Annalise home and to find answers to what happened to Baby Steffen in DCS custody.
Baby Steffen's tiny body will be laid to rest on Friday, July 7, in Clarksville, Tennessee. His battle to live has ended, but his family's battle for his big sister Annalise continues. The Rivenburgs still don't have the answers that they seek as to what happened at Vanderbilt once Baby Steffen was taken into Department of Children's Services (DCS) custody. They are waiting for the results of a private autopsy, funded by donations from people who believe that the family deserves unbiased answers. Those results could take up to 3 months. The fate of Annalise may be decided in less than 3 weeks. DCS has requested a hearing to terminate the parental rights of Steffen and Patricia. That hearing is scheduled for July 24.
The Rivenburg family was back in court on Monday morning, June 19. This time, it was to fight for Annalise, the big sister of Baby Steffen, the baby who was taken off of life support on June 8. The family, including aunts, uncles, and cousins, were hopeful that the court would send little Annalise back home to be with her family, but that did not happen. Instead, they learned that the Department of Children's Services (DCS) now plans to terminate her parents' parental rights and place her for adoption, presumably with the foster family with whom she and Baby Steffen were placed 4 months ago, just before the baby got sick. They are devastated. Patricia's heart-wrenching sobs could be heard in the background as a family member told the news to Health Impact News. The thought of losing Annalise seems an unbearably cruel blow to the family that is still reeling from what they call Baby Steffen's "potentially preventable" death.
The Rivenburgs were not ready to say goodbye to Baby Steffen. On the morning of his death, Steffen's parents and grandparents were in court pleading for his life, but their cries were drowned out by the voices of others who literally argued for his death. The events surrounding Baby Steffen's death on Thursday afternoon, June 8, are disturbing, and the family wants answers. The prayer of thousands of people around the world was that Baby Steffen's heart would beat and that he would breathe when doctors at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt removed him from the ECMO machine. According to Lisa Rivenburg, that is exactly what happened. "His heart was beating!" But she says that the doctors didn't give him the option of surviving. A doctor told the family that his heart wouldn't beat for long, so they wanted to give him painkillers "to relax him." Just a short time before he was removed from life support, Baby Steffen was kicking his feet and moving his arms in response to his family. While his parents still pleaded for his life and for time with their baby, Lisa tried to record her grandson's final moments. She reports that a Vanderbilt police officer told her to stop recording: "I'm getting ready to arrest you." She said that he started to reach for something. She didn't know whether he was reaching for his handcuffs or gun or something else, but she stopped recording. Grandma did not get her phone back until she was seated in her car. She and the baby's parents were escorted under armed guard out of the hospital. "We were treated like criminals!"
Civil Rights Abuse? Judge Only Gives Parents 24 Hours to Find Doctor Before Baby is Removed from Life Support
After a long day in court, the Rivenburg family did not get the news they wanted to hear about Baby Steffen. Last week, a judge approved a temporary injunction to keep the 7 month old baby from being taken off life support. On Monday afternoon, Judge Wayne Shelton ruled that Baby Steffen's mother does not have the right to make the decision of whether or not to take him off of life support, and he denied the request to extend the injunction. The family has a short 24 hour, up to 48 hour, window to find a pediatric cardiologist in the South willing to testify that the baby is eligible for a heart transplant and would survive it. Unless they find such an expert, Vanderbilt doctors, not the parents, will decide when to take Baby Steffen off of the life support machine that is keeping him alive at this time.
We asked grandmother Lisa Rivenburg if Baby Steffen is showing any signs of responding to family. She responded: YES! ALL signs! He opens his eyes, squeezes my hand, puts his hands up in the air, kicks his feet. He smiles. He grimaces. He makes his little "Elvis face." She told us that he lifts his hands up when she plays his favorite song, "Awake, My Soul," by Chris Tomlin. He's completely cognizant when he's not heavily medicated. Steffen responds to his family as much as he can while being limited by wires and tubes. Lisa said that he fights the medications that make him sleep. The family has court on Monday, the day before the court order expires that is keeping Baby Steffen alive. They have been told that Vanderbilt Hospital intends to bring in a doctor from their hospital "to say the baby has no chance."
Doctors at Vanderbilt Hospital in Tennessee want to take a baby off of life support Tuesday, May 30. His family is fighting for his very life. They believe that there is still hope for 7 month old Steffen Rivenburg Jr., who was born with heart defects but was not sick until after Child Protective Services seized custody of him and his older sister on February 2. His mother Patricia Tornberg told Health Impact News that, even though he is very sick now: I feel like he can make a turn-around. My husband and I want to give him a chance by keeping him on life support. After baby Steffen was taken from his parents and placed into foster care, he caught a very serious viral infection on February 17 which caused damage to his heart. A heart surgery that the parents were told would not be needed until he was 6 months old became necessary on February 23. That was followed by 3 more heart surgeries and other procedures on his tiny body. Patricia and Steffen Rivenburg Sr. have told the hospital and the Department of Children's Services (DCS) that they refuse to consent to taking their son off of life support, but the doctors reportedly plan to unplug him by noon on Tuesday, May 30th. The family is requesting that everyone call the Governor of Tennessee to prevent this from happening.