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September 20, 2014

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Parents assist in probe of Reno baby declared dead twice

RENO, Nev. — The parents are cooperating in an unusual investigation into the death of a baby who last week was declared dead twice at a Reno hospital, police said.

But so far authorities have been unable to explain exactly what happened during the puzzling chain of events.

The 8-month-old girl was sent to the county morgue after she first was declared dead at 11:39 a.m. Thursday at Renown Regional Medical Center. But the medical examiner said that formal intake for an autopsy about an hour later, the infant showed signs of life. So they rushed her back to the hospital, where she eventually was declared dead again at 4:37 p.m.

Police, the hospital and the medical examiner's office are trying to determine what caused the child's death and if any mistakes were made that might have resulted in a premature declaration of death. They have declined to say whether they believed the baby girl actually was briefly revived after death or only exhibited signs of life at the morgue, prompting officials to order return to the hospital for further resuscitation as a precaution.

The Washoe County Medical Examiner completed an autopsy Friday, but it doesn't expect to release the results for "a few weeks, pending test results," county spokeswoman Nancy Leuenhagen said Tuesday.

Police won't say what caused the unnamed parents to seek emergency treatment Thursday morning for the child. They said the father first took the baby to West Hills psychiatric hospital before she was taken to Renown about a mile away.

Reno Police Lt. William Rulla confirmed officers have examined the couple's residence as part of the investigation.

"We have met with and will continue to meet with both parents, who have been very cooperative with us during this incident," Rulla said.

"Our part is to investigate any type of criminality, whether as an intentional act or as a possible neglect," he said in an email to The Associated Press late Monday afternoon. "We have also had similar cases that came out to be accidents."

An initial statement from police on Friday suggested the baby was in fact alive at one point at the Medical Examiner's Office — which is on the hospital campus — and initially responded to life-saving efforts. The efforts were initiated after "personnel at the Medical Examiner's Office believed they heard the infant breathe," police said.

An ambulance was called to take the infant a few blocks back to Renown, "where the life-saving efforts were continued," the statement said. "Although the infant initially responded to these efforts, the infant was ultimately declared to be deceased."

Dr. Ellen Clark, Washoe County's chief medical examiner, said she believed personnel in her office acted appropriately. In her only formal statement, she said the baby "appeared" to breathe and described as "one of the miracles of modern medicine" the fact that "seemingly deceased persons are sometimes resuscitated."

"For this child, if there was any potential for survival, the normal response would be to do exactly what the medical examiner's staff did," Clark said. "They rendered aid when the baby appeared to breathe."

Renown is conducting its own investigation of the incident, as is standard procedure in all deaths at the hospital, spokeswoman Angela Rambo said.

Privacy laws prevent the hospital from commenting specifically on the case, but Rambo said, "reflexive breathing can occur after death and can sometimes be misunderstood as a sign of life."

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