The U.S. Border Patrol located the father of an 11-year-old girl whose mother had removed her from Phoenix Children's Hospital with a catheter still in her heart, but he has denied playing any role in taking the cancer-stricken girl from her sickbed.
Surveillance video captured the girl, identified only as Emily, along with a young boy and her mother, who police have now identified as 35-year-old Norma Bracamontes, walking out of Phoenix Children's Hospital at 10:30 p.m. last Wednesday.
Authorities and medical professionals fear the catheter in the girl's heart could become infected and endanger her life. The device was scheduled to be taken out before her mother removed an IV from the girl, who had been receiving chemotherapy, had recently battled an infection and had her right arm amputated.
When stopped while entering the United States last weekend, Luis Bracamontes, 46, told authorities that the family lived a "nomadic" life, and did not have a permanent residence, ABC affiliate KNXV-TV reported.
Police said that Bracamontes was a Mexican citizen with a U.S. Resident Alien ID Card, and that the girl and her mother were U.S. citizens. Other than that, Bracamontes provided "no valuable information" as far as the whereabouts of his daughter, Sgt. Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said.
Though authorities are still baffled as to why the family would remove the girl from the hospital, they speculated that they might have been worried about paying the bill, the Associated Press reported. Neither parent has been charged with a crime.
The family's not having a U.S. address has made the search for Emily difficult, Martos told ABC News last week. Since Emily and her family are from Mexico, they have no listed records in Arizona.
A nurse supervisor called 911 when she realized Emily was missing, and described how Emily was able to avoid detection.
"She was wearing a wig, which is not unusual, a lot of our cancer patients wear wigs," the supervisor said. "She wasn't wearing a wig when she went into the bathroom though, and then she was wearing a wig when she came out, and she was actually covering her right arm, the amputated arm."
Police said Norma Bracamontes removed Emily's IV before walking her out of the hospital in street clothes.
The family left the hospital in a black van and has not been seen since. Luis Bracamontes denied to authorities that he was driving the van.
Calls placed today to Phoenix Children's Hospital spokeswoman Jane Walton by ABC News were not immediately returned.
With the catheter still in her heart, Emily runs the risk of infection at both the site where the catheter entered her skin, and risks bacteria getting into the catheter at its tip, from where it could travel into her heart. At that point, the bacteria could enter her bloodstream.
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABCNews.com that the longer Emily is out of professional care, the chances of her developing sepsis increases.
"This is not hype, or an overblown concern," he said. "We have a patient who, with cancer, is in a precarious position for infection. The longer it takes, the more worried we get. The chances of an infection being introduced goes up and up each day."
- Crime & Justice