Girl in coma



1957_0531_payette_pixMay 31, 1957
Long Beach

Suzanne was supposed to have a simple bit of surgery. Didn’t everyone
get their tonsils out? The 15-year-old went into St. Mary’s Hospital in
Long Beach on May 31, 1956, but during the operation, her heart
stopped. Doctors opened her chest and massaged her heart. But it was
too late. By the time her heart resumed beating, her brain had gone too
long without oxygen and she suffered irreversible damage.

Days passed, and then weeks. The Times wrote about others who had
fallen into comas. There was 12-year-old Herbie Gray of South Pasadena,
who was riding his bicycle and got hit by a truck Nov. 28, 1955, and
Mrs. William Wrigley, who suffered a stroke Dec. 23, 1947, and was kept
alive by what was considered "a medical miracle."

Suzanne’s mother said: "She seems to be trying to tell us something."

Her care was extremely costly and her father, Lyle, a furniture
salesman, used up all the family’s money. "I have borrowed from everyone we
know," he said. "There is nowhere else to turn."

Suzanne’s story touched the hearts of many people in Los Angeles and
across the country. Anonymous benefactors donated money as well as football
tickets for charity raffles. Schoolchildren raised $884 in nickels and
dimes. Her parents brought a $1.5-million lawsuit ($10,747,925.65 USD
2006) against the hospital, the surgeon and the anesthesiologist, but
The Times didn’t cover the outcome of the suit. 

"People have been wonderful, but there’s so far to go to meet the cost
of Suzanne’s bills," said her younger brother, Lyle Jr., 11. 

"Suzanne seems to be making progress," her father said after she had
been in a coma for three months. "Physically, she appears fairly good.
We think she recognizes us when we enter her room. She breaks out in a
sweat and seems to get excited."

But after six months of hospital care, she was no better and her parents brought her home to 2728 Ostrom Ave.,
Long Beach, to be tended by her mother and father.  "At least we can
give her 24-hour care and try to make her comfortable," her mother
said. "We can do no more."

"Our insurance money is used up, our borrowings are gone and donations
from kind people have been used up also," her father said.

"My wife believes that occasionally Suzanne recognizes her for a
moment," he said. "And at times she seems to have some expression in
her face. She doesn’t talk, but she will make sounds."

On May 31, 1957, the first anniversary of her operation, The Times offered no hope of her recovery.

The Payette family, which also included another daughter, Sally,
apparently moved to Minnesota. Lyle and Isabelle Payette died in 1986.
Judging by online genealogical records, Suzanne spent 20 years in a
coma before dying in 1976.

Herbie Gray died March 3, 1957, without regaining consciousness. Ada
Wrigley died Dec. 16, 1958, at the Wrigley mansion in Pasadena.

However, The Times also wrote about a "miracle man." His name was
Melvin Eugene Hewitt and in 1951, he was revived after hitting his head
on the sidewalk during a brawl outside an El Monte bar. He was
considered dead on arrival at El Monte Medical Center, but two doctors
cut open his chest and massaged his heart. After six weeks in a coma,
Hewitt regained consciousness, although he suffered brain damage.

In 1957, his mother, Mabel Werrett, told The Times: "He is a religious
man and he speaks with conviction. I place a lot of faith in his

She quoted him: "Someday soon, Mom, I will be completely cured and my mind will be as normal as when I had my accident."

Melvin Eugene Hewitt died Dec. 28, 1987, at the age of 63, 36 years after he was given up for dead.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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