Monday, February 26, 2007

Ethan Biggers passes away peacefully after 1 year in coma

DAYTON, Ohio - A soldier shot in the head while serving in Iraq lingered in a coma for nearly a year before his twin brother made the decision to disconnect his feeding tube earlier this month.

Army Spc. Ethan Biggers, 22, a native of suburban Beavercreek, died Saturday in an Indianapolis hospital 11 days after his feedings were stopped. The decision fell to his brother, Matt, after the death of their father, Rand, who initially made medical decisions for his son, in a car accident last July.

Ethan Biggers, a radio operator, was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when a sniper shot him on March 5, 2006. The bullet entered above his left ear and exited above his right, resulting in a traumatic brain injury.

"It is the worst kind of injury you can suffer, a brain injury," said Matt Biggers, who joined the Army with his twin straight out of high school and completed two tours of duty in Iraq. "A bullet going through the head ... you don't recover from that."

Through his treatment at a handful of Veterans Affairs and military hospitals, Biggers' family kept hoping to see positive signs. An occasional eye movement or facial expression would give them hope, but never led to the kind of recognition and progress that doctors said would indicate a recovery was possible.

"You can't fix what's not there," Matt Biggers said. "He'd never be the same and he'd never live a full life."

At the time of his injury, Ethan Biggers and his then-fiancee, Britni Fuller, were expecting their first child. Shortly after his injury, the couple married with the help of a firm that conducted the ceremony by proxy. A few months later, Fuller gave birth to a son, Eben.

After Biggers' father died, the responsibility for his medical care fell to Fuller, but Matt Biggers assumed medical guardianship after she told him she couldn't make the decision whether to discontinue the life-preserving treatments. In early February, as the anniversary of Ethan Biggers' injury approached, Matt Biggers made the decision to disconnect the feeding tube.

It was a decision with which other family members - including his mother and stepmother - disagreed.

"This is something Matt feels very strongly about, and I believe for unselfish reasons," his sister, Liza Biggers, wrote in an online journal entry.

"If it were my decision, I would probably grant a little more time. Regardless, I will continue to support Matt. In the end it is his decision as he has medical guardianship of Ethan," she wrote.

His mother, Millie Biggers, felt her son could have recovered if he was brought home to the Dayton area and given hospice care.

"I believe in miracles. I believe in the power of prayer and I believe in the right to life," she said Thursday.

It was a difficult decision for Matt Biggers, who originally planned to have the feeding tube removed on March 5 - one year to the day after the sniper attack. But Ethan Biggers' health declined, and when he spiked a 104-degree fever on Feb. 13, his brother decided the time had come.

Biggers' family and two fellow servicemen held a somber ceremony five days later and pinned his Purple Heart on his chest. The family had put off the medal ceremony in the hopes Ethan Biggers would emerge from the coma.

He died in Indianapolis' Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center 11 days after his feedings were stopped. Liza Biggers said that while the ordeal has tried her family, she thought that the doctors had done everything they could to help her brother.

"I feel like if God didn't give us a miracle, he gave us strength," she said.

From the Palladium Item