Steffen with Annalise

The fight to bring Annalise home continues, as the family lays Baby Steffen’s body to rest. Photo provided by the family.

by Health Impact News/ Staff 

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.

Supporters of the family believe that Annalise is a casualty of what they are calling a “cover-up” by DCS and Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Baby Steffen was born with Down Syndrome and a congenital heart defect, for which doctors said that he would need heart surgery at about 6 months. Despite his disabilities, he was doing well and was not showing any signs of sickness.

His parents missed 3 doctors appointments due to car trouble, which they rescheduled. The family was transitioning Annalise toward homeschooling during the same time period. They had not yet found an “umbrella” or “cover school,” but Annalise missed several days of public school.

DCS seized both children on the same day – Annalise from school, and Steffen from his doctor’s appointment. Shortly after, they were placed into foster care, Steffen became very ill.

Doctors reportedly admitted to the family that they did “too many surgeries too close together,” and they told the family that the baby didn’t have long to live. Together with DCS, Vanderbilt petitioned the state to override parental authority and allow the doctors permission to decide when to pull the plug. Judge Wayne Shelton agreed.

See original story and updates:

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Judge Who Ordered Baby Steffen to be Removed from Life Support Orders Sister be Placed for Adoption

Hearings on Annalise

According to the Reunite the Rivenburgs Facebook page, there are 3 court dates coming up in the upcoming weeks.

July 11 is a Foster Care Review Meeting at the Clarksville Courthouse at 2:30 pm.

July 17  at 10:30 am “is when the family is asking that Annalise be placed with them, if not directly with the parents.”

The Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) for Annalise is scheduled for July 24 at 9:00 am. If the family is unsuccessful in regaining custody, or getting her placed with relatives, Annalise would be eligible for adoption. She reportedly lives with a foster family who plans to adopt. Her family wants her home.

Steffen parents with Annalise

Patricia and Steffen Sr. pray their daughter Annalise can come home. Photo provided by the family.

The plan for Annalise was originally reunification. The family finds it fishy that the plans to reunify abruptly changed to TPR after Baby Steffen’s death. They are devastated and desperately pray that Judge Wayne Shelton will look at the evidence in the case, as well as the lack of evidence that they have caused harm to their daughter.

Can this Judge Be Impartial?

At a hearing on June 19, the Rivenburgs petitioned Judge Shelton to recuse himself from further hearings on the family’s case. He was the judge who ruled, twice, in favor of taking parental authority away from the parents and give the authority to make the end of life decisions for Baby Steffen to doctors at Vanderbilt Hospital.

Not only did doctors at Vanderbilt “pull the plug,” they administered what appeared to the family to be a lethal dose of propofol after Baby Steffen’s heart beat on its own and he was breathing on his own.

Later, when the family asked the court to authorize funds for a private autopsy, multiple sources told Health Impact News that the judge asked:

Why would I give you money to help you with something you’re trying to do that could cause me to lose my job?

Nonetheless, the family was able to raise the funds for a private autopsy, which was recently completed. It may take up to 3 months to get the results back. They hope that the autopsy will provide some answers.

Vanderbilt Refused to Contact Doctors for Second Opinion

A number of supporters join the family in believing that the hospital is attempting to cover-up something, whether it be medical malpractice by the doctors involved with the surgeries, or medical experimentation done by the hospital.

When doctors at Vanderbilt gave up on Baby Steffen, the family petitioned the court to allow them to get a second opinion or transfer Steffen’s care to another facility and at least try to give the baby a chance to live. Judge Shelton ruled that the family could have up to 48 hours to get a second opinion.

Steffen Pooh outfit

Baby Steffen fought to stay alive, but he was not given the opportunity. Photo provided by the family.

Within hours of the ruling, doctors and hospitals began contacting the family, offering to review the medical records and offer a second opinion. Lisa Rivenburg, Steffen’s grandmother, told Health Impact News that she heard from hospitals in Texas, Boston, Colorado, Wisconsin, Memphis, and others – about 10 in all.

The caveat was that each needed to speak with doctors at Vanderbilt and get Baby Steffen’s medical records to review.

Though Lisa says that she and the family gave Vanderbilt doctors contact information from each facility that contacted them, Vanderbilt reportedly refused to talk with them:

I found them 10 plus doctors, but they [Vanderbilt] didn’t try.

She notes that Judge Shelton refused to follow his own order and require Vanderbilt to talk to the other doctors.

Steffen and parents

Parents Steffen Sr. and Patricia fought for their son’s life. Photo provided by the family.

One advocate spoke with a nurse who is the transplant coordinator for her hospital. The hospital was willing to talk with Vanderbilt doctors and offer a second opinion. She just needed for his medical records to be released to her. But Vanderbilt never talked with her.

There could readily have been a second opinion, if only Vanderbilt had cooperated. Publicly, they gave lip service to working with the family, but the reality that the family says they experienced was that their efforts to save Baby Steffen’s life were thwarted at every turn by Vanderbilt, DCS, and the judge.

Funeral Arrangements

Baby Steffen’s final resting place will be at Resthaven Memorial Gardens in Clarksville, Tennessee. There will be a time for viewing at noon on Friday, July 7, with the funeral following at 1 pm. The address is 2930 Highway 41A South, Clarksville, Tennessee 37043. He will be buried in the Angel Garden.

The family invites supporters to come to Baby Steffen’s funeral service. Lisa Rivenburg requests that, “if you can’t come, please pray.”

How You Can Help

Supporters have set up a Facebook page for the family called Reunite the Rivenburgs.

Steffen FB page

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam may be reached at (615) 741-2001, or contacted here, to ask for intervention for Annalise. Her family does not believe that her fate should be determined by the very judge who sentenced her baby brother to death. Governor Haslam is also on Facebook.

The Senator for their district is Dr. Mark Green. He may be reached at (615) 741-2374, or contacted here.

Their state Representative is Representative Joe Pitts. He may be reached at (615) 741-2043, or contacted here.