Baby dies after judge denies appeal to keep him on life support

A 7-month-old boy has died after a judge denied an appeal filed by the parents to keep him on life support at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Steffen Rivenburg Jr. was removed from life support on Thursday afternoon. The child’s biological parents filed court orders to keep their son on life support, but a Montgomery County judge denied appeals, deciding the doctors know what’s best.

“I don’t know how I’m going to live without him,” said Trish Tornberg, the baby’s mother. “He’s a character, and he’s a great kid. He’s a good baby.”

The family said the baby should have had a heart transplant, but doctors at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital cared for the child and said he couldn’t handle a transplant.

The hospital told Channel 4 its goal is to serve the child’s best interests. VUMC’s chief communications officer John Howser said in a statement:

“As we’ve indicated previously, our goal with this child-and with any child that is entrusted to our care-is to serve the child’s best interests and in a way that is medically appropriate. We have made every attempt to work with these parents and to enlist them in the necessary medical decisions that must be made in light of their child’s clinical condition. Rather than do so, they have chosen to pursue this matter through the courts, which to date have decided that the clinical care team should be free to proceed in the manner that they, in their professional judgment, believe is best for the child. We will continue to do so going forward, as always endeavoring to have his parents participate with us in that process.”

The family said they didn’t visit the baby over the past few days.

“We’ve been working really hard, trying to get this motion in place and trying to save his life, so we’ve been real busy,” Tornberg said.

Tornberg and Steffen Rivenburg Sr. said their son was born with Down syndrome and congenital heart disease, but had no other problems until he was taken into the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services custody in early February. A few weeks later they said he contracted a virus.

Steffen’s parents said the state took their son because they didn’t show up for too many medical appointments. The parents told Channel 4 they had car troubles.

Around the time the children were taken to a foster family, Channel 4 found their father was arrested for contempt. Months before that, he was arrested for domestic assault.

“I want one of my kids back, at least that’s what I’m owed. That’s how I feel,” Tornberg said.

The biological parents have a daughter who is also in state custody. They said they hope to get custody of her again.