NEWARK, N.J. — The family of a teenage girl who was declared “brain dead” last year following a tonsillectomy and other throat and nasal procedures state that they have obtained declarations from four doctors who agree that her condition does not meet the definition of brain death.
As previously reported, the matter centers around 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who underwent an operation at Children’s Hospital and Research Center in December 2013, as doctors had recommended the operation to help alleviate her sleep apnea, irregular weight gain and urination issues.
But her uncle, Omari Sealey, said that the girl was apprehensive even before going under the knife.
“The worst thing about all of this is that Jahi told my sister, ‘I don’t want to get this surgery; something bad is going to happen. I’m not going to wake up,’” he told CNN.
McMath reportedly asked for a Popsicle following the procedure, advising that her throat hurt. But soon after, the girl’s family knew that something was terribly wrong.
“When she got moved to ICU, there was a 30-minute wait until any family member could go see her,” her grandmother, Sandy Chapman, told reporters. “Upon entry, they saw that there was way too much blood.”
“She had to have four blood transfusions. She had two liters of blood pumped out of her lungs, not including what was in her stomach,” she continued. “There was an enormous amount of blood, and we kept asking, ‘Is this normal?’ Some nurses said, ‘I don’t know,’ and some said, ‘Yes.’ There was a lot of uncertainty and a lack of urgency.”
When McMath’s oxygen levels then began to fall dangerously low, Chapman called for help. The girl later went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. Days later, doctors pronounced her legally dead and sought to take her off life support.
McMath’s family has been fighting the matter in court ever since. Natasha Winkfield, McMath’s mother, reached an agreement with Children’s Hospital and Research Center, to allow the girl to be transferred out of the hospital. She has been receiving care at an undisclosed location ever since.
But the family says that McMath has made improvements as her MRI shows neurological activity, and that the girl is able to respond to some commands. They have also now obtained four letters from medical professionals stating that McMath is not brain dead.
“The brain structure evidenced in the MRI is not consistent with an MRI of a patient that has been brain dead over nine months,” wrote Charles Prestigiacomo, director of Cerebrovascular and Endovascular Neurosurgery at University Hospital in Newark. “[McMath has] very significant brain injury but she doesn’t meet the criteria for brain dead.”
Neuroscientist Phil DeFina of the International Brain Research Foundation stated that he is considering treating McMath with a drug that could help improve her consciousness. Cuban neurologist Calixto Machado and neurointensivist Ivan Mikolaenko have signed letters as well stating that the teenager cannot be considered brain dead.
The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, says that he is therefore going to be filing a request with California’s secretary of state this week to ask him to rescind the death certificate issued for McMath. He told NJ.com that if necessary, he will file a lawsuit so the family can return home as they have been living in New Jersey temporarily, which he says in the only “place where [the hospitals] can’t kill her.” New Jersey has provisions to assist patients whose families do not accept brain death diagnoses as the final answer.
“[Jahi’s mother] has a firm religious conviction that her daughter isn’t dead. You can see the devotion of this mother to her child. This family has given up everything to take care of Jahi,” he said. “All this family wants is to find a way to get by, keep their daughter alive and get her home to California where she can be surrounded by love and prayers because they think that is what’s going to heal her.”