Relatives seek extended care for brain-dead California girl

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Dec 27, 2013 9:12pm EST

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - 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 December 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 December 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.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (6)
BklynGuy wrote:
Who is paying the extraordinary costs for maintaining a dead body on life support for an indefinite amount of the in a critical care unit? The Hospital should not be expected to absorb these costs, and I doubt that the family has cash-on-hand to pay for it. Yet another disconnect in our health care “system” – the court can mandate treatment but not the reimbursement for the costs. So all this comes out of YOUR pocket in terms of higher medical overhead costs and higher health care premiums.

Dec 27, 2013 9:45pm EST  --  Report as abuse
PICUDOC wrote:
The irreversibility of death is harsh but certain. This child is legally and medically dead and incapable of ever regaining consciousness or any independent activity involving neurological control.
No ethically responsible institution would accept her for long term or even short term care in transfer. Such an institution would be in the wrong morally and probably legally as well.

Dec 27, 2013 10:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
janeEsmith wrote:
My heart goes out to this family, but they need to understand the science behind her beating heart. As a Christian, I believe that God can do miracles just as they do, but I understand that He doesn’t need them to keep the machines running to perform one. It’s a painful, hard reality that they need to face. Jahi is gone. They are only keeping a body alive. The real miracle would be to allow her organs to extend the lives of other children.

Dec 27, 2013 10:08pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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