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A fight for life: Jahi McMath

1/16/2014, 4:28 p.m.
Jahi McMath

In an ongoing saga, a 13-year-old brain-dead Black child in California has been relocated to New York in an effort to save the teen.

The situation involves Jahi McMath, who was declared brain-dead after a routine operation to get her tonsils removed. The operation resulted in complications for the teen, including cardiac arrest and severe bleeding, according to reports. Without a feeding tube, she was attached to a ventilator and has been given antibiotics and nutritional support.

McMath’s family and the hospital, Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, were put at odds. Doctors wanted to remove the teen from the ventilator, bringing the case to court. Doctors said that she was dead; however, the family contends that McMath is showing signs of life.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled that the hospital had to hold off on disconnecting McMath from life support. He gave the family until Tuesday to come up with a way to resolve the situation.

Last week, the hospital released McMath to her family to seek help elsewhere. McMath was transported, with the help of a ventilator, to an undisclosed location in New York. The family remains hopeful that McMath will pull through.

“We’re very relieved that she got safely to where she needed to be, because we were all very afraid—given the fragile condition as she wasted away at Children’s—that she might not make it,” said Chris Dolan, the family’s attorney, on Monday.

McMath’s uncle, Omari Sealy, said in a televised interview that as long as McMath’s heart is beating, she is alive.

“As a family, we are definitely relieved that she’s no longer at Children’s Hospital, but we’re all emotionally drained,” Sealey said. “This has been an incredible roller-coaster ride of emotions. She’s moving a lot more. She responds to audio and touch, and more compelling evidence is the fact that she can move her head and neck.”

Last Monday, Dolan said that McMath’s body has deteriorated so badly that they are not sure if she’s going to make it.

“She’s in very bad shape,” he said. “What I can tell you is that those examinations show that her medical condition, separate from the brain issue, is not good.”

The case has been compared to a similar situation involving Theresa Marie “Terri” Schiavo. The case involved prolonged life support that lasted from 1990 to 2005. The issue was whether to carry out the decision of Schiavo’s husband to terminate her life support.

As a result of the prolonged series of legal challenges presented by her parents and by state and federal legislative intervention in the highly publicized case, there was a seven-year delay before life support was finally terminated.

McMath’s family has received support from the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, and others, who say McMath has been labeled a “deceased” person, yet she retains all the functional attributes of a living person, despite her brain injury.

“Families and individuals must make themselves aware of what so-called ‘brain death’ is and what it is not,” said Bobby Schindler, executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. “Additionally, families and individuals must educate themselves regarding their rights as patients, the advance documentation that must be completed prior to any medical procedure, as well as how to best ensure any patient’s rights.”