If your child was about to have their life-support plug pulled without your approval, how far would you go? In this particular case, doctors had told a desperate dad that there was nothing more they could do for his “brain-dead” son. Consequently, he decided to take some seriously drastic – and completely illegal – action.
Of course, when a parent is told that their child is about to die, it’s very unlikely that they’d accept the doctor’s words at first. And in January 2015 George Pickering received this exact news at the Tomball Regional Medical Center near Houston, Texas, as his son lay on life support.
George Pickering III was just 27 years old, and although he’d long suffered from seizures, in January 2015 he suffered a stroke that threatened to end his life. In fact, it was so bad that he was placed in Tomball’s critical care unit.
Doctors here believed that there was nothing they could do for the young man. They subsequently declared him brain-dead and said that the only course of action was to gradually shut down his life support as part of the “terminal wean” process. It’s believed that an organ donation center had also been notified.
But the elder Pickering was having none of it. He had been here with his son once before, he claimed – and on that occasion he’d made a full recovery. Hence, Pickering was convinced that this could happen again. Doctors, though, refused to listen to his desperate pleas.
“I felt hopeless,” the father told KPRC. “They were saying he was brain-dead; he was a vegetable.” So Pickering became more erratic. And that only compelled doctors to place decisions regarding his son’s care in the hands of his former wife and another of his sons.
Staff at the hospital also grew increasingly concerned by Pickering’s agitated behavior, and by this point it was obvious that he’d been drinking. “They were moving too fast,” the father added. “The hospital, the nurses, the doctors.”
Pickering later explained that he felt that if he were given the chance to spend a few hours with his precious son, he’d be able to tell for sure whether his boy was actually brain-dead. And so, fueled by alcohol, he did something so drastic that the police had to be called.
In his mind, none of the medical staff were listening to him. Having exhausted all options, then, the determined father took out his gun. Would the doctors respond to such a potentially deadly threat?
After all, the aggressive gesture was accompanied by equally aggressive language. In fact, Pickering allegedly threatened to shoot his ex-wife, a nurse and his healthy son – the latter of whom eventually disarmed him. Pickering senior then barricaded himself in with terminally ill Pickering junior, and a protracted police stand-off began.
“At that point I had blinders on,” Pickering explained to KPRC. “All I knew is I just needed to have this time with George.” He got his wish, too; the stand-off ended up lasting for three long hours.
Alarmingly, Pickering shouted that he was in possession of another firearm, which encouraged his ex-wife and the previously threatened nurse, quite sensibly, to leave. It would now be up to the police to resolve the situation.
A SWAT team, in fact, was called upon, with the medical center placed on lockdown while officers tried to convince Pickering to give himself up. But he wouldn’t move: concealed by the privacy curtains, the father was waiting for a sign of life from his son.
And although Pickering later admitted to being inebriated and hostile, his paternal instincts proved to be correct. Three hours into the stand-off, with SWAT officers still pursuing negotiations, something truly remarkable happened.
“During that three hours, George squeezed my hand three or four times on command,” Pickering said in his KPRC interview. But there would be a further twist in the story, with the SWAT team having sent in a robot to pull back the curtain that the father was hiding behind.
It turned out that Pickering had lied about the second gun in a bid to have more time with his son. However, after achieving his goal, and proving to doctors that his son wasn’t brain-dead, the dad gave himself up without a fight.
Phoebe Smith, the Pickering family lawyer, told RT that after the curtain was pulled back, the SWAT team’s own doctors “saw that [her] client’s son was not brain-dead because he was making eye contact [and] was following their commands.” She added, “They were completely amazed at this.”
There was of course, though, a wider issue. Pickering may have done what he did with the best of intentions, but he had still broken the law. He was subsequently indicted for two charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, something that landed him 11 months in jail. Still, he was released just before Christmas 2015 for the most emotional of reunions.
Pickering junior fortunately went on to make a full recovery, too. Though George III was unaware of what had happened until later, he told KPRC, “There was a law broken, but it was broken for all the right reasons. I’m here now because of it.”
Ms. Smith, who also spoke to the broadcaster, said the case “has always been about a father protecting his son, when his son couldn’t protect himself.” George III added, “It’s the duty of a parent to protect your children, and that’s all he did. The important thing is I’m alive and well.”