Father: Sick UK child surviving after life support withdrawn

Thomas Evans, father of terminally ill toddler Alfie, attends Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 18, 2018. Britain's Court of Appeal ruled against the 23-month-old toddler's parents, who sought permission to take him to Italy for medical treatment that lower U.K. courts blocked in favor of suspending life support. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

LONDON (AP) — The father of a terminally ill British toddler said the child is surviving after being taken off life support, surprising doctors who had argued he should be allowed to die.

Tom Evans said that his 23-month-old son, Alfie, survived for six hours with no assistance and that doctors are now providing oxygen and hydration.

“He’s now on oxygen,” Evans said. “It’s not changing his breathing but it’s oxygenating his body.”

Alfie is in a “semivegetative state” as a result of a degenerative neurological condition doctors have been unable to identify. He was taken off life support after a series of court rulings backed doctors who said further treatment was futile.

Alfie’s parents, Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20, want to take him to the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital. Doctors at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital believe that would not be in the toddler’s best interests, and British courts have agreed.

The case has drawn the attention of Pope Francis, who during a Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square this month offered prayers for Alfie and others who are suffering from serious infirmities. Francis has made appeals for the boy to be kept alive, saying only God can decide who dies.

The head of the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital said the Italian defense ministry had a plane ready to transport Alfie to Italy if he were allowed. In an interview with Italian Radio 24, Mariella Enoc, who traveled to Liverpool to try to intervene on behalf of the parents, said she spoke to the Italian ambassador in London, who said the plane could leave with him in a matter of minutes.

On Monday, the Italian foreign ministry announced it had granted Alfie Italian citizenship to facilitate his arrival and transport.

The hospital said it would not be offering a running commentary on the child’s condition.

“This is our normal and agreed practice with all our patients,” the hospital said in a statement.

(Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this story from Rome.)

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Danica Kirka