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Catholic hospital caused teen with Down syndrome to die while her sister looked on in horror, family says
Screenshot of WBAY-TV video(Featured: Grace Schara)

Catholic hospital caused teen with Down syndrome to die while her sister looked on in horror, family says

A Wisconsin family has taken the first steps to file a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital which they say caused the death of their teen daughter who had Down syndrome.

In the fall of 2021, Grace Schara was a typical 19-year-old. She enjoyed telling jokes and had recently learned to drive a car. However, after she and her mother, Cindy Schara, caught COVID, her oxygen levels began to drop, and her family feared for her health.

On October 9, 2021, they admitted Grace to St. Elizabeth's hospital in Appleton, Wisconsin, about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay. St. Elizabeth's is owned by Ascension, a Catholic health care company that claims to be "rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer" and which promises to serve the "poor and vulnerable" in particular. As someone with Down syndrome who had contracted COVID, Grace was "vulnerable," but her family was confident she would receive proper treatment at St. Elizabeth's.

"We never would have considered that this would be a dangerous place to put her in," said Grace's father, Scott Schara.

However, Scott Schara soon became suspicious of some of the staff at St. Elizabeth's when they began to pressure him to sign a form authorizing them to place Grace on a ventilator, if necessary. Schara refused because her blood gas levels were normal.

Tensions between Schara and the hospital continued to escalate, and after several days, an armed guard was brought in to stand outside Grace's room, while Schara was forced to leave. As Cindy Schara, Grace's mother, still struggled with COVID, she was not permitted to visit her daughter, so Grace's older sister, Jessica Vander Heiden, was eventually designated to be Grace's medical advocate.

At around 6:15 p.m. on October 13, 2021, four days after Grace had been admitted at St. Elizabeth's, Vander Heiden became very worried about her sister's condition. She had turned cold since receiving a dose of morphine, though a nurse reportedly told Vander Heiden that such a reaction to morphine was "normal." Then just over an hour later, Vander Heiden panicked when she noticed Grace's eyes had rolled back into her head. Vander Heiden then felt for a pulse, but couldn't find one.

Vander Heiden immediately begged doctors and nurses to do something to help Grace, but they refused, claiming that Grace had been designated as a DNR, or do not resuscitate. Cindy and Scott Schara, still barred from the hospital premises, then took to FaceTime, insisting to hospital staff, "She’s not a DNR! Please help our little girl!"

Sadly, all of the pleas from the Scharas and Vander Heiden went unheeded, and Grace was pronounced dead just before 7:30 p.m.

After Grace's death, her family became enraged. They claimed that none of them had ever signed a DNR form on Grace's behalf and that Grace had never signed one for herself. They also claimed that during her hospital stay, Grace had not been wearing a DNR bracelet, as required for DNR patients according to state law.

The family even alleged that the hospital had given Grace a mixture of medicines that likely contributed to her death. In addition to morphine and an anti-anxiety medication, Grace had received a maximum dose of the sedative Precedex for four days, even though such levels of Precedex are not recommended for longer than 24 hours.

"They gave Grace a combination of drugs that none of us could have survived," her father claimed.

In April 2022, the family held a rally across the street from the hospital to remember Grace and to keep her case in the public eye. Hundreds of people attended, demanding justice for their "amazing Grace."

Now, a year after the rally and nearly a year and a half after Grace's death, her family has submitted the paperwork with the state to begin the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit against St. Elizabeth's.

"St. Elizabeth’s not only breached the Standard of Care, but their unethical behavior led directly to Grace’s death," Scott Schara said, according to a press release posted to Facebook. "It’s clear to me that this hospital was a dangerous place for Down Syndrome patients like my daughter. My Grace was discriminated against due to her disability and she received grossly subpar healthcare, in clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Scott Schara stated on camera last April that the family did not want monetary compensation from the hospital, only a change in Grace's death certificate. Whether he still holds to that goal remains unclear.

"We not only hope that justice will come for Grace, but also for the hundreds of thousands of lives stolen by this medical tyranny," Vander Heiden, Grace's sister, said at a recent press conference. "These crimes against humanity must stop. They need to be held accountable for their actions."

Last year, the hospital declined to comment on Grace's death, citing patient privacy. After receiving a complaint from the Schara family, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services cleared St. Elizabeth's of wrongdoing in Grace's case.

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@cortneyweil →