Jahi McMath to be moved to facility with ventilator: judge

The family of a 13-year-old girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy gone wrong will be...

The family of a 13-year-old girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy gone wrong will be allowed to take their daughter to a new facility. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Laila Kearney, Reuters

, Last Updated: 7:31 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - The family of a 13-year-old girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy gone wrong will be allowed to take their daughter to a new facility without removing the ventilator that is keeping her heart and lungs working.

The agreement on Friday between Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland and the family of Jahi McMath would allow relatives to move the child if they do so before 5 p.m. PT Tuesday (0100 GMT Wednesday), when a restraining order keeping the hospital from removing her from life support is set to expire, said hospital spokesman Sam Singer.

McMath was admitted to Children's Hospital on Dec. 9 to have her tonsils removed as well as other procedures performed in an effort to treat her sleep apnea. After the surgery, the girl began to bleed profusely, went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain swelling.

The hospital declared her brain dead three days later, and made plans to remove her from the ventilator, but her family has fought in state and federal court to keep her on life support.

The case has drawn international attention, as well as support from relatives of Terri Schiavo, who died in 2005 after a 15-year battle over whether to keep her body alive in a persistent vegetative state.

On Friday, Singer reiterated the hospital's position that doctors would remove McMath from the ventilator on Tuesday evening, barring a court order to the contrary.

To move the girl, her family would need to provide transportation and find a facility willing to take her, both sides said.

The agreement came shortly after Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo on Friday denied the family's request to force the hospital to insert breathing and feeding tubes into McMath. The procedures would likely be needed for an extended care facility to accept the girl, family attorney Christopher Dolan said.

Evelio also refused a request by the family to require Children's Hospital to allow an outside physician to perform the surgeries on its grounds.

Dolan said if McMath was not transferred before the new deadline, her family would proceed with a federal lawsuit, filed on Monday, again seeking an order forcing the hospital to insert breathing and feeding tubes into the girl.

McMath's lungs and heart are only continuing to function because of air being forced in and out of her body by the ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease, according to medical experts. Unlike a person in a coma or a vegetative state, McMath lacks any brain activity, rendering her unable to breathe on her own, doctors said.

Hospital officials have said the facility and state health officials are investigating how a routine operation led to McMath's death and that they understand the family's anguish.

SAN FRANCISCO - Relatives of a California girl declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy want her moved to a long-term care facility, but face resistance from the hospital where she is due to be disconnected from a breathing machine on Monday.

The family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who has been without brain function and on a ventilator for two weeks at Children's Hospital in Oakland, California, said they had found an extended-care center willing to take the girl on an indefinite basis, hospital officials said on Friday.

But the center will not accept Jahi unless she has surgically implanted ports for breathing and feeding tubes placed in her body before the transfer, family attorney Christopher Dolan said on Thursday. He declined to name the facility.

Children's Hospital has agreed to allow Jahi to be moved, but has declined to perform additional procedures on her, hospital spokesman Sam Singer said on Friday.

The family would be required to find an outside physician to implant tracheotomy and gastric tubes in the girl and supply lawful transportation services for her, Singer said. Hospital officials also would need to know the name of the facility taking Jahi, but that information had not been provided, he added.

Children's Hospital's chief of pediatric medicine, Dr. David Durand, said in a statement that the hospital "does not believe that performing surgical procedures on the body of a deceased person is an appropriate medical practice."

Dolan could not be reached for comment on Friday, but was quoted in local media as saying the family was looking at various legal options, including seeking federal court intervention in the case.

"They (Children's Hospital) don't want the attention that's going on over there, so just help us to get her out of there," Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, told CNN on Friday.

"I would probably need my child's heart to stop to show me that she was dead," Winkfield said. "Her heart was still beating, so there's still life there."

According to medical experts, Jahi's lungs and heart are only continuing to function artificially because of air being forced in and out of her body by the ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease. Unlike an individual in a coma or a vegetative state, Jahi lacks any brain activity whatsoever, rendering her unable to breathe on her own, doctors said.

Jahi was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 9 for surgery to remove her tonsils as a means of treating her sleep apnea. Shortly after the procedure, she began to bleed severely, suffered a heart attack and brain swelling, Dolan said. Hospital officials declared her brain dead on Dec. 12.

The girl's family, who has expressed hope that Jahi might recover despite her diagnosis, won a restraining order on Monday barring the hospital from removing her from a ventilator.

On Tuesday, following court testimony by two pediatric neurologists that Jahi was beyond recovery, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo denied a request by relatives to extend his restraining order, which prohibits the hospital from taking her off the breathing machine without the family's consent before Monday at 5 p.m. local time.

OAKLAND, Calif. - The family of a California girl who was declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy won an 11th-hour court order on Monday requiring doctors to keep her connected to a breathing machine for at least another week.

Under the latest court order in the case, doctors at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland are barred from taking 13-year-old Jahi McMath off a ventilator without her family's consent before 5 p.m. local time on Jan. 7, relatives and hospital officials said.

The eight-day extension gives the girl's relatives, who refuse to accept that she is beyond recovery, more time to complete arrangements to have her transferred to an extended-care facility.

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evilio Grillo's decision to extend the previous deadline set in his own restraining order of last week was intended to allow time for appellate review of the case, hospital officials said.

"This is a tragedy that has been postponed for another week," hospital spokesman Sam Singer told reporters outside the hospital after family members announced Monday's ruling about an hour before Grillo's original deadline was due to lapse.

A person declared brain dead is considered legally and physiologically dead under California law, as is the case in many states, and the hospital's own statements about Jahi have referred to her as deceased.

Grillo acted as the family filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday asking a federal judge to intervene to keep Jahi connected to the machine that has kept her heart and lungs going for more than two weeks.

The lawsuit claimed the hospital's planned "removal of cardiopulmonary support over the objections" of the girl's mother, and against her religious principles, amounts to an infringement of religious freedom and privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Grillo initially refused last week to extend his restraining order after two pediatric neurologists testified that Jahi had suffered an irreversible loss of all brain activity and was thus medically dead.

SPINAL REFLEX OR SIGNS OF HOPE?

Family members said they were seeking to have her moved to a licensed long-term treatment center in New York and had raised $20,000 in donations needed to pay for a cross-country airlift.

Jahi's grandmother Sandra Chatman, herself a registered nurse, told reporters outside the hospital Monday afternoon that the girl had started to move her legs and appeared to be responding to voices of loved ones around her.

The girl's uncle Omar Sealey also said Jahi was responding to her mother's voice and touch and that he had video to prove it. "We have a pediatrician who has seen Jahi who has sworn that she is not dead," Sealey told reporters.

Hospital spokeswoman Melinda Krigel said it was not uncommon for spontaneous twitching or other body movements caused by spinal reflexes to occur in recently deceased individuals.

The hospital has said it would not stand in the way of Jahi's being moved to another facility. But officials there also refused last week to perform additional procedures that might be required, such as placing a tracheotomy and gastric tubes in her body before a transfer.

As part of its request for federal court action on Monday, the family asked that the hospital be required to carry out those preparations. The hospital also has said it needs written assurances from a coroner that the transfer would be permitted.

Jahi was admitted to Children's Hospital on Dec. 9 for surgery to remove her tonsils as a means of treating her sleep apnea. Shortly after the procedure, she began to bleed severely, suffered a heart attack and then brain swelling, according to the family's lawyer, Christopher Dolan.

Hospital officials declared her brain dead on Dec. 12.

According to medical experts, Jahi's lungs and heart are only continuing to function because of air being forced in and out of her body by the ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease. Unlike an individual in a coma or a vegetative state, Jahi lacks any brain activity whatsoever, rendering her unable to breathe on her own, doctors said.

Hospital officials have said the facility and state health officials are investigating how a routine operation led to Jahi's death and that they understand the family's anguish.

"We have the deepest sympathy for Jahi's mother who wishes her daughter was alive; but the ventilator cannot reverse the brain death that has occurred, and it would be wrong to give false hope that Jahi will ever come back to life," Dr. David Durand, the chief of pediatrics, said in a statement.

Relatives of a California girl declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy lost their bid on Tuesday to extend a court order that bars a hospital from taking the child off a breathing machine without their consent before Dec. 30.

A judge denied the family's petition to lengthen his restraining order after two pediatric neurologists testified during a court hearing in Oakland that 13-year-old Jahi McMath was without brain function and thus beyond recovery.

Family members and their lawyer said after the proceedings that they had not yet decided whether to dispute the medical findings or appeal the latest decision by Alameda County Superior Judge Evelio Grillo to a higher court.

"I just want to kiss Jahi's warm face like I do every day," her grandmother, Sandra Chatman, said outside the courthouse.

The girl's uncle, Omari Sealey, said the hearing left him feeling "numb," adding "We're still trying to digest it."

Jahi was admitted to Children's Hospital and Resource Center in Oakland on Dec. 9 for surgery to remove her tonsils but ended up being declared brain dead three days later following complications from the operation, hospital officials have said.

The family's lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said the surgery, aimed at treating Jahi's sleep apnea, was considered routine, but after surgery Jahi began bleeding profusely, suffered a heart attack and then brain swelling.

The judge granted a restraining order on Monday barring doctors from taking Jahi off the ventilator - a machine that has kept her breathing artificially - against the family's wishes any sooner than 5 p.m.

Grillo also ordered an independent examination of the girl's medical condition, which was conducted on Monday under court order by Dr. Paul Fisher from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California.

Both Fisher and another pediatric neurologist from the Oakland hospital, Dr. Robin Shanahan, told the judge on Tuesday that Jahi was brain dead, which differs from either a coma or a vegetative state in that there is no brain activity whatsoever.

While it was unclear whether the family might elect to have the girl removed from the ventilator before the judge's order expires, Dolan indicated that relatives wanted to wait at least until after Christmas.

"A big part of this race was getting this child to and through Christmas," he said. "The most precious thing we have right now is time."

 


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