Life support extended for girl declared brain dead

  • Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 1:46 a.m.
This undated file photo shows Jahi McMath. The family of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy said Monday they will sue to keep her on life support.
This undated file photo shows Jahi McMath. The family of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy said Monday they will sue to keep her on life support.

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The family of a girl who was declared brain dead after what was supposed to be a routine tonsillectomy received another reprieve Monday from a judge who ordered the 13-year-old to be kept on life support for another week.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland say Jahi McMath will never recover, so they want to take her off the machines that are keeping her body functioning. Her family wants to continue life support, saying they have hope she will still pull through.


Shortly before a 5 p.m. Monday deadline that was set in a previous ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered the hospital to keep Jahi on a ventilator until Jan. 7.

Meanwhile, the family’s lawyer filed suit in federal court, requesting that the hospital be compelled to perform a tracheotomy for breathing and to insert a feeding tube — procedures that would allow Jahi to be transferred to a facility willing to care for her. The hospital has said it’s unethical to perform surgery on a person who is legally dead.

Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, said she wept when she heard about the delay, and she hugged relatives outside the hospital. She said it was an answer to her prayers and a sign that she was right to keep fighting.

“Who wants to know the date and the time their child would die?” Winkfield said. “I don’t care what anyone has to say about what I’m doing. ... I have to do what is right for me and for Jahi.”

She said she does not believe her daughter is dead because her heart is still beating.

Sam Singer, a hospital spokesman, said it would comply with the judge’s new order.

The family’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said he was pleased.

“He’s giving us a meaningful opportunity to seek relief and what I consider a stay of execution,” Dolan said. “I feel like I’m a death row lawyer, and it does not feel good.”

Dolan said when he called Jahi’s mother at the hospital about the extension of the deadline, she said that hospital staff had cleared family members out of a waiting room as doctors prepared to remove Jahi from the ventilator.

“The stakes are so high when you hold somebody’s life in your hands,” he said. “And when someone’s mother says to you, ‘Please don’t let them kill my baby,’ you do everything that you can. There’s nothing that can prepare you for this.”

Dolan said he knows he has been widely criticized by some for apparently giving the girl’s family a false sense of hope, but he said he has had family members speak to other doctors who have painted the bleakest of pictures.

“I am fighting for the right of parents to direct the health care of their child and for them to make the choice.”

Doctors at Children’s Hospital and an independent pediatric neurologist from Stanford University have concluded Jahi is brain dead.

She underwent a tonsillectomy at the hospital Dec. 9 to treat sleep apnea and other issues. After she awoke from the operation, her family said, she started bleeding heavily and went into cardiac arrest.

Jahi was declared brain dead three days later.

Jahi’s uncle, Omari Sealey, who is also the family’s spokesman, said earlier Monday that the family intended to seek a restraining order against the hospital and sue to keep her alive.

Sealey said the family took video of Jahi responding when her mother touched and talked to her. He also said a pediatrician examined Jahi and said she was not dead.

A facility in New York state is willing to take Jahi, and arrangements have been made for medical transport with a doctor by her side, the uncle said.

The family said on its fundraising website that it had raised more than $25,000 for a possible transfer.

Earlier, Singer, the hospital spokesman, reiterated the position of its doctors.

“This is one of the most tragic situations imaginable,” Singer said. “A family has lost their young daughter. But unfortunately, Jahi is deceased. No amount of hope, prayer or medical procedures will bring her back.”

Hospital spokeswoman Cynthia Chiarappa has said officials would have to understand the capabilities of the New York facility before allowing a transfer.

The hospital also said it would need to confirm there is lawful transportation included in any transfer plan and there is written permission from the coroner.

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