HIV baby Rico goes home in Mower County, but fight goes on

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2013 - 7:13 AM

Battle between his parents and Mower County over custody and supervision of care is far from over.

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Rico Martinez Nagel -- “ John and Rico”

After spending the past seven weeks in a hospital crib connected to a feeding tube and powerful drugs to treat his HIV infection, 3-month-old Rico Martinez Nagel finally went home Friday.

But the legal battle between his parents and a southern Minnesota county over custody of the boy and supervision of his medical care is far from over.

That won’t be decided until early next month, when a Mower County judge presides over a two-day bench trial to determine whether the county should continue to supervise his medical treatments or trust them to the care of his parents, Lindsey Nagel and John Martinez.

“We’re young parents, but I don’t think we’re unable to take care of our son,” Lindsey Nagel, 22, said Friday. “It just seems a lot like they don’t trust us. But they want us to trust them.”

While Rico’s legal case is only two months old, his story dates back 20 years, when his mother tested positive for HIV shortly after her parents adopted her from Romania. Lindsey Nagel received powerful anti-retroviral medication to treat her infection. But after 22 months of treatments that left the toddler sick and scrawny, her parents decided to stop them. They claim that she has been healthy ever since.

Fast forward to Dec. 19, when Lindsey gave birth to Rico at Methodist Hospital in Rochester. Hours later, Rico tested positive for HIV. Within days, he was receiving some of the same, but less potent, anti-retroviral treatments his mother endured to reduce the risk of AIDS.

He first went home Jan. 10 with promises from his parents that they would follow through with his treatments and scheduled appointments. But when they didn’t show up for two appointments the next week, county child protection officials obtained a court order to remove the baby from the family’s home in Brownsdale, about 45 minutes southwest of Rochester.

Rico had been in the hospital nearly full time since, while his family battled in court over his care.

“They are way overreaching,” Cheryl Nagel, Lindsey’s mother, said Friday of the county’s actions. “They are trying to ruin my daughter’s life. And I take it very personally.”

But county officials, who declined to comment for this story, alleged in their court petition that the boy was in need of protection services because he was medically neglected by his family.

In building their case, they spelled out several concerns, beyond missed appointments.

They said that during her pregnancy Lindsey Nagel refused recommendations from Mayo Clinic staff that she undergo treatments that could “lower the risk of transmission” of HIV to the fetus. Medical experts have said that those treatments are highly successful in reducing the chance that the virus is passed on to the unborn child.

Then after Rico’s birth, Lindsey and Martinez refused to have their son tested for HIV. They only relented, the petition said, when “they were told a refusal” would result in the boy being put in foster care.

The petition also cited the decision by Lindsey’s parents 20 years ago to discontinue giving her the anti-retroviral drug AZT.

Attached to the petition was a letter from W. Charles Huskins of the Mayo Clinic that stated that without anti-retroviral therapy, Rico “faces a significant risk of AIDS or death within 12 months.” With the therapy, “and regular medical care, most children have a healthy and relatively normal childhood,” the letter said.

Wasn’t told

The family tells a different version of events.

Lindsey Nagel testified at a court hearing in late January that she told a Mayo Clinic nurse at her first visit for her pregnancy in June 2012 that she was HIV positive. Although she admitted that she did not provide information in the initial written medical history that she was infected, she said her doctor also knew.

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