Often pausing, his voice thick with grief, Michael Leblanc recounted the last hours of his wife Deanna Leblanc’s life to a jury in a Barrie courtroom Friday.
Nurse Joanna Flynn is on trial for manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death for allegedly causing Deanna’s death by taking her off life support without a doctor’s order and coercing Leblanc into consenting. She has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Leblanc, a 51-year-old RV technician, told the jury he and Deanna had been married for 19 years, living in Midland, Ont., with their two sons, then 19 and 16.
Two days after a routine knee surgery, Deanna Leblanc, 39, began feeling extremely ill and was rushed to the Georgian Bay General Hospital.
She was “vital signs absent” when she arrived at the hospital in the early morning of March 2, 2014, the jury has heard, and it took two-and-a-half hours to resuscitate her.
Later that day, she was transferred to the intensive care unit, still unconscious, unresponsive and on a ventilator.
At the ICU, Leblanc said a doctor whose name he can’t remember told him Deanna was more stable now, but “not out of the woods,” and that she might have brain damage.
The doctor told him not to give up hope and they were doing everything they could, he said.
Leblanc said that, until he spoke to Flynn later, no one mentioned the words “life support” or “brain dead” to describe his wife’s condition.
He remembered thinking “if (Deanna) had to learn to walk and talk all over again, I’d be good with that.”
Leblanc said the doctor asked him questions about Deanna’s knee, said he was going to check for an infection, and noted that Deanna had been “in good shape and healthy.”
Before the day nurse left, she gave him a hug, told him to be strong and not to give up hope, Leblanc said. She introduced him to Flynn, the night nurse.
Within half an hour, he says, Flynn started the conversation that led to this criminal trial.
He says she told him “the ventilator is a life-support system and my wife was brain dead and that she wasn’t coming back . . . . She could be in heaven looking down on us.”
Then, he says, she told him that Deanna’s heart rate was going up and that it had been weakened by the trauma from the morning.
“She said (Deanna’s heart) would explode or rupture. I can’t remember the exact word she used,” he said.
“It was watch that or shut the machines off so she could go peacefully. That was my choice,” he said.
When he heard that, he said, he felt “like my life was over.”
He said the first time he heard the term “brain dead” was from Flynn.
“I didn’t know if (Deanna) could come back from that or not. Brain dead just sounded like she was gone,” said Leblanc when asked by the Crown what he understood by that term.
He told the boys to come into their mother’s room to “say goodbye in case something happened,” he said.
Then he says Flynn told him that she and her husband had discussed that if something like this happened to them, they wouldn’t want to be on life support.
Flynn asked him if Deanna would want to be on life support, to be laying here like this, he said.
Leblanc said he was overwhelmed and unsure, thinking: “What am I going to do?”
He testified that he believed what he says Flynn told him, that “my wife had no hope and I was going to sit there and hold her hand and watch her heart explode . . . and it wasn’t going to be pretty.”
He said he didn’t ask to speak to a doctor or bring up that the doctor had said not to give up hope.
“It didn’t seem like it mattered anymore,” he said.
He couldn’t remember what exactly he said to Flynn, but said it was something like: “Okay.”
He said Flynn told him she would shut down the machines and come back in a few minutes to make sure there was no pulse.
Leblanc said he was in shock at that point.
“I wasn’t good. I was holding (Deannas’s) hand and talking to her. Told her that I wished we could switch bodies, that I could be there instead of her,” he said.
He says Flynn pushed five or six buttons and went away.
After she left the room, the doctor came in briefly and checked Deanna’s knee, Leblanc said.
The doctor didn’t say anything and Leblanc said nothing to him, although he wondered why he would still be checking her knee, Leblanc testified.
Flynn returned after a few minutes.
“(She said) that (Deanna) was gone and that she was sorry for my loss,” Leblanc said.
The doctor also later came up to him and shook his hand and said how sorry he was, he said.
It was after the funeral that the police first contacted him, Leblanc said.
The trial continues Monday.