Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 10, 2013

Issy's condition improves: 'Nothing short of a miracle'

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — GRAND RAPIDS — Issy Stapleton spent four days "clinging to life."

But a recovery her father termed "nothing short of a miracle" finally cast some hope upon a tragic story that's unfolded over the past week.

"She’s doing amazing," Matt Stapleton told a Record-Eagle reporter on Monday. "These doctors and nurses are also referring it as a miracle. She's a fighter, a tough young lady ... It's a monumental improvement toward her recovery," he said.

The autistic Elberta girl, 14, suffered carbon monoxide poisoning on Sept. 3 after authorities said her mother, Kelli Stapleton, tried to kill her and commit suicide by burning two charcoal grills inside an enclosed van. Both were found unconscious and Issy lingered, unresponsive, in that state for days inside the critical care unit at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Then Issy awoke.

Matt Stapleton said doctors removed Issy from a ventilator to see if she'd improve, and within 12 hours she went from a "coma-like" state to talking, walking, making requests and showing glimmers of her old personality.

Issy Stapleton is now out of the critical care unit and her father said he's optimistic she'll be released from the hospital "sooner rather than later."

But questions remain about her future health -- an MRI showed signs of brain damage -- and doctors still have to conduct tests. Questions also remain for Kelli Stapleton, 45, who faces an attempted murder charge, an accusation Matt Stapleton said he's still trying to understand.

"I haven't found any time to get focused on the details surrounding the case, because right now couldn't be more excited about where (Issy's) progress is," he said.

The last time Stapleton spoke with his wife was when she was transported to Munson Medical Center after she and Issy were found unconscious in the van off St. Pierre Road in Blaine Township. He spoke to her for "about 30 seconds against police wishes" because she refused treatment.

"(I) said you need to make you sure accept their help," he said.

Matt's sister Chris Stapleton said the family has not had contact with Kelli Stapleton since her arrest, but declined further comment. Kelli Stapleton remains in a segregation cell in Benzie County's jail after a judge denied her bond Thursday, citing suicide concerns.

"One thing I know is she's safe where she's at," Matt Stapleton said. "I know she's not a danger to herself."

A Record-Eagle reporter tried to contact Stapleton's court-appointed attorney, Anthony Cicchelli, by phone, but reached a recording that stated no comment would be made to media.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said Kelli Stapleton declined to speak to police. She said detectives are letting the Stapleton family focus on Issy's recovery before they press into the circumstances that led to the incident.

"I think state police is just letting the family deal with Issy now but not pressing them for information," Swanson said. "I expect they will be in the future."

Swanson is named on a change.org petition calling for federal hate crime charges against Kelli Stapleton because the alleged "crime clearly targeted Issy due to her disability." Kelli Stapleton wrote a blog called "The Status Woe" that detailed her struggles raising the intelligent, but abusive Issy.

Swanson said hate crime prosecutions were beyond her purview as county prosecutor.

"There's absolutely nothing I can do with it. It's a federal law and I can only charge state law," she said.

Michigan State Police Lt. Kip Belcher said Issy's improvement was "excellent news," but said there was nothing new to report in the investigation.

Matt Stapleton wrote an email statement thanking the public for their concern and prayers.

"In this story, however tragic the details, there will always be a happy ending. Isabelle is alive. With continued support and prayer, she will continue to fight for the best possible recovery," he wrote.

Kelli Stapleton's preliminary examination is scheduled for Sept. 16 at 11 a.m.