OAKLAND, Calif. — The family of a teenage girl who was declared “brain dead” by doctors last year following a tonsillectomy and other throat and nasal procedures claims that the child has regained brain activity and seeks a court ruling reversing her declaration of 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, 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 commands. As her body is also functioning, including the onset of puberty, McMath’s family is asking the court to overturn its ruling declaring the girl brain dead.
“This court, having made such a determination, must consider the change in circumstances presented by plaintiff’s evidence which shows Jahi’s condition is now one in which Jahi now has brain function,” a petition to the court states. “There is simply no case, other than Jahi McMath, where a pediatric patient has been diagnosed as brain dead but has continued to receive medical treatment and survived this long.”
International Brain Research Foundation CEO Phil Defina, PhD, and neurologist Calixto Machado spoke at a press conference about the matter on Friday, and video footage was played for the media showing McMath responding to simple requests.
“It took me some months to fight with [the decision to conduct further brain scans], because if she doesn’t [show signs of brain activity], what will I do?” Winkfield stated at the event. “But I knew because I’m her mother, and I talk to her and she responds. . . . I will never give up on her.”