IOWA CITY (AP) — A Clinton woman whose religious beliefs sparked a family legal tussle after she slipped into a coma has regained consciousness, shifting the focus back to who should be awarded guardianship and be responsible for her medical care.
Tawnya Nissen, 28, was hospitalized Aug. 4 with neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a condition caused by a reaction to diet pills. She entered a coma and physicians at the University of Iowa Hospitals honored health care decisions made by her husband, a Jehovah’s Witness.
Earlier this month, a Johnson County judge suspended Chris Nissen’s ability to make medical decisions for his wife, awarding temporary guardianship to the woman’s father, Richard T. Reid.
Tawnya Nissen emerged from a coma last week and requested a transfer to a Davenport hospital, and despite a setback late last week is recovering, attorney Frank Santiago said.
“She’s talking, laughing … doing a lot better,” Santiago said. “Even her husband went back to work, and he wouldn’t have done that if things weren’t getting better.”
Despite her improvement, the judge’s ruling awarding guardianship to her father stands.
Reid sought guardianship after Chris Nissen claimed religious beliefs prohibited the sharing of blood or transfusions. Judge Marsha Beckelman ruled against the husband “in order to protect life” and concluding it was impossible to determine whether the woman would accept a transfusion to save her life.
Santiago appealed the ruling last week, but the judge refused to schedule a hearing after finding a technical flaw in the lawyer’s legal paperwork.
A fresh appeal, filed Monday, contends the judge erred in granting the father temporary guardianship. Santiago says the judge overlooked a legal standard designed to consider Tawnya Nissen’s wishes.
“If Tawnya was awake, what would she do?” Santiago said. “And who is better fit to voice what she would do than her husband. The father is simply imposing what he wants, not what Tawnya wants.”
Tawnya Nissen’s family intervened in the case after claiming her husband had denied them access to information about her medical condition. The father also argued that his daughter was not officially a member of the Jehovah’s Witness church.
Reid’s guardianship was set to last until his daughter was deemed by a medical professional “conscious and capable of making her own medical decisions,” according to the judge’s ruling.
In briefs filed last week, Reid said it’s too soon to terminate his guardianship.
A hearing on the appeal was not immediately scheduled.