PHOENIX – Emily has leukemia. She just underwent a month of chemotherapy and had her right arm amputated after suffering complications. Doctors say she is at risk of dying from an infection.
But the sick 11-year-old isn't in a hospital.
Her mother last week inexplicably unhooked a tube that had been carrying vital medication through the girl's heart, got her out of bed and changed her clothes. Then she did something police say is even more baffling — she walked the child out of the hospital, the tiny tube still protruding from her chest.
Doctors say the device, if left unattended, could allow bacteria to quickly enter her body, leading to a potentially deadly infection.
Phoenix police are now on a desperate search for the mother and daughter, last seen nearly a week ago on surveillance video leaving Phoenix Children's Hospital, the mother pushing an IV stand, the small child with a bandaged arm amputated above the elbow walking beside her.
Authorities have no explanation for why 35-year-old Norma Bracamontes took her daughter from the hospital before her treatment was complete, but they say it's imperative she return her immediately. They're even considering criminal charges.
"Certainly from our standpoint, we are looking at it thinking, is this negligence in failing to provide Emily the proper medical care that she requires?" police Sgt. Steve Martos said Tuesday. "They should know by now what is required, what Emily needs, so it baffles us that anyone, any parent with a child like this, with leukemia and an amputated arm, and now you put them in this situation where it's potentially fatal, we just don't understand why they would not seek medical treatment."
Authorities speculate the mother might have been concerned with paying the child's hospital bill, but her motivation remains a mystery. The family lives a "nomadic" life without a permanent residence, but they have relatives in Arizona, California and Mexico, none of whom have been able to provide police with information about their whereabouts, Martos said.
U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped the girl's father, Luis Bracamontes, 46, as he crossed into Arizona from Mexico over the weekend, but the man denied any involvement in removing his daughter from the hospital and said he didn't know where she was.
Martos said doctors, who can't discuss Emily's case publicly due to privacy laws, told authorities that when Emily's mother removed the tubing, she failed to put a cap on the open line leading into the girl's body. That's left the young girl susceptible to a potentially deadly infection.
The cap was found in the girl's hospital bathroom.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said Emily's immune system is already compromised from the cancer and chemotherapy.
"If bacteria get into the blood stream, that can cause a serious infection," Schaffner said.
The open catheter could serve as a pathway for bacteria, he said, adding that an infection is not only possible, but likely.
"These are life-threatening infections, particularly in young children who've had leukemia and chemotherapy," Schaffner said.
And the longer the girl is away from medical care, the greater the risk of contamination.
If infection does set in, he said, the girl could die "in a few days or worse, hours."