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Brain dead 13-year-old tonsil surgery patient to remain on life support

December 18, 2013 6:35 am by | 15 Comments

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The family of a 13-year-old Oakland girl who was declared brain-dead after tonsil-removal surgery served a cease-and-desist order to Children's Hospital Oakland on Tuesday demanding that she be kept on life support, then said hours later that the hospital had agreed not to remove the ventilator.

However, the next steps remained unclear, and privacy laws left the hospital unable to comment on the case or "correct misperceptions created about this sad situation," the chief of pediatrics said in a written statement.

The move by relatives of Jahi McMath brought a potential legal element into an unusual -- though not unprecedented -- case that has captured widespread attention.

Tonsillectomies are one of the country's most common surgeries. More than 700,000 are performed each year, according to a recent study, and estimates of mortality in the U.S. and England range from 1 death in every 10,000 cases to 1 death in every 29,000 cases.

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Jahi's family said she had a tonsillectomy at the hospital on Dec. 9 to correct her sleep apnea. She appeared to be fine after emerging from the operation, relatives said, but later blood began pouring out of her nose and mouth and she went into cardiac arrest. She was declared brain-dead Thursday.

Family members have been hoping for a recovery, though, and have accused doctors of pressuring them to remove Jahi from machines that are helping her breathe. The girl's uncle, Omari Sealey, hand-delivered a cease-and-desist letter to doctors on Tuesday written by San Francisco attorney Christopher Dolan.

The letter cited the California Patient Bill of Rights and asked top hospital officials to "refrain from any actions or activities which would remove Jahi from life support" until there is a "judicial determination" in the matter.

"If they move without our consent after having this letter in their hands," Sealey said, "they're just creating more problems for themselves."

Prayer vigil

On Tuesday afternoon, Dolan, surrounded by family members, said the hospital had agreed to keep Jahi on life support indefinitely, even as a second test Tuesday confirmed the girl had no brain activity. "There is no timeline currently," he said. "That gives the family time to hold a prayer vigil (Wednesday night) and seek to have some kind of divine intervention."

Dolan said Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, had a "full and frank discussion" with doctors on Tuesday about her daughter's prognosis.

"The mother understands the progression that could take place," Dolan said. "The mother's aware of how conditions could deteriorate or stay the same. She is just of the mind that this is not something that should be rushed, and that it's something that she wants to talk to God (about)."

In a statement, David Durand, the hospital's chief of pediatrics, said, "Our hearts go out to this patient and her family. Unfortunately, we have not been authorized by the family to share information with the public about this matter. Consequently, we are not able to correct misperceptions created about this sad situation.

"Nonetheless, we want to assure the community that we are doing everything in our capacity to provide support to the grieving family."

Cover-up feared

Winkfield told reporters outside the hospital earlier Tuesday that she feared the hospital would "cover up" what happened to her daughter. She was angry, saying, "Thank you, Children's Hospital, for just ruining my child's life and my life."

Winkfield said she believes Jahi is trying to communicate with her, saying, "I feel her. I can feel my daughter. I just kind of feel like maybe she's trapped inside her own body. She wants to scream out and tell me something."

She said, "I want her on as long as possible, because I really believe that God will wake her up."

Difficult decisions

The case highlights the nuances and difficulties that surround end-of-life decisions. No two cases are the same, and even the term "brain-dead" can mean different things in different contexts, experts said.

Culture, religion, family dynamics and many other factors can affect how people handle such issues, said Kathleen Day-Seiter, a Berkeley elder attorney and former social worker.

"In some cultures, you don't give up, no matter what. You don't give up until the person is gone, gone," she said. "Plus, you're dealing with the emotions of losing a loved one. It can be very complicated."

Henry K. Lee and Carolyn Jones are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail: [email protected], [email protected] ___

Copyright 2014 MedCity News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

By Henry Lee and Carolyn Jones

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13 comments
asdf
asdf

What a horrible story. My heart goes out to the parents. This is heart breaking. May they find strength to move on with their lives. So sad.

Hoping
Hoping

I serve a great and mighty God that heals, He can do miracles. Your family is in my prayers. Hang in there keep your head up and keep your faith. God is Good. God is in control of the time and intensity of our trails. 1-Peter 5:& says Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. Do just that. God bless you and your family. 

Gavi
Gavi

We, as Americans, feel it is our right to comment and give our opinion on everything we see and hear. I suppose I can lump myself into the same category since I am now commenting. But this is the first time I have ever posted a comment on anything. I understand that articles on the web now give us all a chance to comment. But when faced with a decision of this magnitude, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. What is important is what this family is going through. How dare anyone say they understand what this family is going through because you have gone through something similar. You might say you can relate for going through a similar situation but we ALL handle things (good & bad) differently. America and society as a whole have become so cold and uncaring that we feel we can ask "who is paying?" or say "the mother is selfish" without another thought or as if we think others really care about what we (as strangers, by the way) think, especially if it is negative. What our comments should do, if by chance, the family of this young girl or another family going through a crisis, were to read our comments, is provide encouragement. No matter whether you agree or disagree with their decisions, negativity only breeds negativity, making the hurt, anger, or pain so much worse. But providing this mother with positive encouragement will foster positivity. And who knows... It may help give her some peace and aid her in getting to the place where she is finally able to make the most difficult decision any of us could ever have to make. It takes much less effort for us 'to just be nice' rather than judgmental or scathing.

MISS AMERICA
MISS AMERICA

God is in control.  I feel it is selfish on the mothers part.  Let go and let God have his will.

Why Delay The Inevitable
Why Delay The Inevitable

Good question "Just Wondering."  This family needs to let this young girl die with dignity. Brain dead is NOT the same as a coma where the body is healing itself. I'm a mother of two grown children and a grandmother and you have to know when to let go.

Patty195946
Patty195946

Same surgery I died on the table 2 days later where I started bleeding out they almost did not save me they need to do something with theses doctor my heart goes out to this mother and her daughter

Bdslleepy
Bdslleepy

Its hard to let go, but you have to let go some day.  Its the right thing to do.  And YES, I have buried a 7 yr old daughter and hated every moment of it.  But  now she is in heaven and watching over the rest of our family until we meet again.  So move on and start the grieving process, nothings going to bring this little girl back to life. 

funnybuns25
funnybuns25

I don't blame her, I have the same feelings as the mother.  You never know maybe a miracle might happen.. If she wants to keep the daughter on life support, the hospital owes that to her.  Let the mom call the shots it's her daughter, brain activity or not. 

ncdave4life
ncdave4life

"Allegedly brain dead" would be the neutral headline. So-called "brain death" is an inexact assessment. Some supposedly brain dead patients make good recoveries.

Have Strength
Have Strength

Ok. Name one case where there was absolutely no brain activity and the person recovered.
I think you are confusing  brain death with comas or vegetative states, in which the brain continues to function to some degree. But brain death means the brain has died.  When it dies, it can never come back to life.

veralesh finkle
veralesh finkle

@Have Strength case in fact ruth schwan, Ashland oh, brain dead. shes alive and well today, that was 37 years ago. so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

MariMetler
MariMetler

That is not true.  There have been books written about coming back from brain death and the last one was written by a neurologist that was brain dead.

Jujugirl
Jujugirl

It should be only up to the family on how they want to deal with it.  Not the doctor's or anyone else.  They should have that choice.

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