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Father Wants a Chance of Life for Fetus

United Press International

An unmarried father is keeping a vigil of hope over the “incubator” body of his pregnant, brain-dead girlfriend--whose body continues to function on life-support systems while he awaits the birth of their baby.

The bizarre case began two weeks ago when Derrick Poole, 31, won a court order to keep his girlfriend, Marie Odette Henderson, 34, a San Francisco school teacher, on the life-support systems, giving their baby a fighting chance for birth.

The couple had planned to marry in December and Henderson became pregnant. But on June 4 she was hospitalized for severe headaches. Kaiser Hospital doctors in suburban Redwood City found a golf ball-sized brain tumor and she underwent surgery. On June 7, six months into pregnancy, Henderson lapsed into an irreversible coma.

Henderson’s parents requested that doctors discontinue the life-support systems and let their daughter die. But Poole, desperate for the child carried by the woman he loved, obtained a court order--keeping her alive in hope of saving the fetus doctors say will be a daughter.

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“I know Odette is in a better place now and all I can see is her shell,” Poole said in an interview Saturday. “She is being used as an incubator and that baby is fighting too.”

Doctors give the baby up to a 70% chance of survival if she is born this week, although no one knows if she will have brain damage. It is unusual to maintain someone on life-support systems more than two weeks because of the increasing risk of infection and deterioration of the circulatory and digestive systems, a hospital spokesman said.

“I keep thinking of her talking and laughing,” said Poole, a technician at a toxic waste-disposal firm, Bay Area Environmental, in suburban Richmond. “She lived and died for this baby.”

The baby has become very real to him, Poole said. He has already heard her heartbeat and calls her by the name the couple picked out--Michelle Odette.

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“It’s important for me to go and talk to the baby now because she can hear me,” Poole said.

Henderson, who taught at the New Traditions Elementary School, “changed my life,” Poole added. “She really straightened me out. We started going to church together and my priorities and values changed.”

The “wear and tear” of his decision to keep the life-support systems going has been heavy on Poole, who has lost 10 pounds since the ordeal began. Usually shy and reserved, he has suddenly found himself the center of news media attention.

But his concentration now is on the baby. If the birth is successful, he plans to have her live with his sister and spend evenings and weekends with her.

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