(CNN) -- Abbie Dorn always wanted children, and in June 2006 she got her wish -- triplets. But during a difficult birth she suffered severe brain damage that took away her chance to raise them.
Now, her parents and former husband are locked in a legal battle over
whether Dorn is capable of interacting with her children, and whether
they should visit her.
On Tuesday, a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled that Abbie Dorn's parents have the right to fight for visitation rights on her behalf.
The ruling clears the way for a trial, scheduled for May 13. No matter who
prevails, the case is likely to lead to years of appeals that could
result in a legal landmark affecting the rights of mentally
Dorn, 34, last had contact with triplets Esti, Reuvi and Yossi in October 2007, when they were toddlers. They will turn 4 on June 20.
Paul and Susan Cohen, a physician and former nurse, are conservators of Abbie Dorn's estate and care for their
daughter full-time at their home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A
$7.8 million medical malpractice settlement funds her treatment.
Her former husband, Daniel Dorn, is raising the triplets in Los Angeles, California.
Susan Cohen says her daughter has made considerable progress after intensive rehabilitation and now communicates by blinking her eyes.
"One slow blink means 'yes.' No response means 'no,'" said Cohen.
Daniel Dorn maintains that his former wife remains in a vegetative state. She is more than physically disabled, he
contends in court papers, she is "neurologically incapacitated" and
legally incompetent to make decisions involving her children.
Abbie and Dan Dorn, both devout Orthodox Jews, were in their early 20s when
they met in Atlanta, Georgia, and embarked on a whirlwind romance. They
married in August 2002 after dating for six months. Dan Dorn took a job
with his father in Los Angeles, and his wife moved to Southern
California with him.
Three years later, in the fall of 2005, Abbie became pregnant.
"They were very much in love," recalled her mother. But what happened to Abbie when her triplets were born would tear the young family apart.
According to her parents and their lawyers, during the delivery Abbie began bleeding severely and went into
cardiac arrest, which deprived her brain of oxygen. Medical personnel were not
able to resuscitate her for nearly 20 minutes, according to the Cohens
and their lawyers.
After Abbie Dorn was revived, her condition initially seemed to improve. Her organs were functioning. Her blood was clotting. But over the next three days, she took a turn for the worse
With his wife's parents overseeing her medical care, Dan Dorn found himself a young father raising triplets. He believed Abbie's prospects
of recovery were faint. One year to the day after the triplets were
born, Dan notified the Cohens that he was ready to move on.
"I still love Abbie very much, but I am trying to move on and have been and will continue to parent our
children, who are happy and are thriving," Dan Dorn told CNN in an
At Dan's request, the Cohens initiated divorce proceedings on Abbie's behalf. The divorce was finalized in the fall of 2008.
Dorn and the Cohens continue to disagree over whether or not Abbie is making progress in her treatment. They also
cannot agree on whether she has the ability to interact with her
Dan Dorn maintains in his legal papers that it is not in his children's best interest to see their mother now.
"The neurosurgeons told me in 2007 that she would not recover. I have asked for an updated neurological report," he told CNN by e-mail.
The judge granted that request at Tuesday's hearing.
CNN has obtained the 2007 medical report in which neurologist Richard Helvie described
Abbie Dorn's condition as "permanent." Observing a list of mental
functions, Helvie noted that she was "so impaired as to be incapable of
being assessed" for most of the evaluation.
Abbie Dorn's parents and therapists tell a different story about her recovery.
"Abbie has made dramatic progress since 2008," said her mental health counselor, Dr. Robert McCarthy.
McCarthy is part of a $33,000-a-month rehabilitation program designed by Susan Cohen. He is
treating Abbie using a method called neurofeedback, which trains the
brain to function more efficiently.
"With the introduction of neurofeedback, she has become increasingly alert, can voluntarily bounce
her legs up and down, has regained movement in her arms, and can even
verbally respond 'yes' or 'no,'" McCarthy said.
Court battles like the one between Dorn and the Cohens are rare but not without precedent.
In 1979, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of a quadriplegic father, William T. Carney, stating that
physically disabled parents cannot be deprived of their children
because of their disability.
But there are key differences between these cases: Carney's case dealt with custody of a physically
disabled parent, while the Dorns' involves visitation by a mentally
Dan Dorn contends in court documents that the legal drama is more about what the Cohens want rather than what Abbie might have wanted for her children.
"Abbie and I were happily married and very much in love. She would want the best for me and our children," he told CNN in an e-mail.
Paul Cohen visits the triplets every three months. The Cohens have asked Dorn to send
videos of the children and allow the family to see each other via webcam
but so far, they say, that hasn't happened.
"There's no reason for the triplets not to have a relationship with their mother, whatever
that relationship may be," said Lisa Helfend Meyer, the Cohens'
Dorn's attorney, Vicki J. Greene, responded that he "wants to be the one to parent the children and tell them at an
appropriate age the proper details of their life. From our perspective,
he gets to make the decisions. He's the father."
Dorn, who is seeking child support from Abbie's estate, stated in court documents
that he has not told the children what happened to their mother because
they are too young to understand. He says he will consider taking the
children to see Abbie when they are older -- if he receives medical
evidence that she will be able to communicate with them.
The Cohens argue that if the children are properly prepared for the
situation, the experience will not be detrimental. They have requested
that the children see a psychologist to help prepare them.
For now, the Cohens will continue to hold on to hope for their daughter.
"I can't let her lose her children," Susan Cohen said.