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Brain dead teen still on life support as deadline looms

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Jahi McMath remains on a ventilator at the same hospital where doctors declared the 13-year-old brain dead after tonsil surgery.

And while many people get their New Year’s countdown clocks ready, the girl’s family is scrambling as a darker deadline looms.

Last week, a judge ruled that the hospital could disconnect life support at 5 p.m. Monday.

“To our knowledge, they [the family] do not have a facility to move the body to,” Children’s Hospital Oakland spokesman Sam Singer told reporters Monday.

Jahi’s family told CNN affiliate KGO that they spent Sunday working the phones, trying to line up another option.

The case has drawn national attention and sparked protests from some local leaders who say the hospital that treated her should have provided better care.

Medical ethicists, meanwhile, say the high-profile case fuels a misconception: that “brain death” is somehow not as final as cardiac death, even though, by definition, it is. The case is “giving the impression that dead people can come back to life,” Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CNN last week.

On Monday, the hospital spokesman once again stressed that the girl had died.

“No amount of prayer, no amount of hope, no amount of any type of medical procedure will bring her back. … The medical situation here in this case is that Jahi McMath died several weeks ago,” Singer said.

Asked by reporters what the hospital would do at 5 p.m. Monday, Singer declined to comment.

“The court has said at 5 p.m. today that the hospital will be allowed to unplug the ventilator, which is the only thing that is keeping Jahi McMath’s heart beating. … There are no winners in this very tragic case,” Singer said.

But Jahi’s family members maintain that they’re hoping for a miracle and want to transfer the girl from Children’s Hospital Oakland to another facility. A statement released by family members Saturday and provided to KGO says they are weighing several options.

Media reports since then have suggested that at least one option has fallen through. The attorney representing Jahi’s family has not responded to requests from CNN for comment on the matter Monday.

So far the family has raised $22,728.00 on GoFundMe.com to move her. According to the site, more than 700 people have donated money in three days.

Jahi was declared brain dead by doctors at the hospital on December 12, three days after tonsil surgery.

CNN has obtained a copy of a medical report, contained in a court filing, that lays out in extensive detail the testing that supports the hospital’s conclusion that McMath has no hope of recovery.

The report was prepared by Dr. Paul Fisher, Chief of Pediatric Neurology at Stanford University, who was appointed by Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo to examine the girl and report his findings to the court.

Fisher found that the girl’s pupils were fully dilated and unresponsive to light and that she did not respond to a variety of intense stimuli.

His report also says McMath showed no sign of breathing on her own when a ventilator was removed: “Patient failed apnea test.” While the family has referred to Jahi’s heart beating, the report says it is only beating because of the mechanical ventilator.

In addition, an imaging test showed no blood flow to Jahi’s brain, while another showed no sign of electrical activity.

Fisher’s conclusion: “Overall, unfortunate circumstances in 13-year-old with known, irreversible brain injury and now complete absence of cerebral function and complete absence of brainstem function, child meets all criteria for brain death, by professional societies and state of California.”

Family members and hospital officials have fought over her future in court. Last week, a judge ruled she was brain dead and urged both sides to work together to resolve the situation.

But the sparring showed no sign of slowing over the weekend, with family members sharply criticizing the hospital’s handling of the matter.

“We wish to acknowledge that Jahi’s case, and our stance regarding her right to life, and her mother’s right to make decisions regarding her child, has stirred a vibrant, sometimes polarizing, national debate. This was never our intention,” the family’s statement said. “We have our strong religious convictions and set of beliefs and we believe that, in this country, a parent has the right to make decisions concerning the existence of their child: not a doctor who looks only at lines on a paper, or reads the cold black and white words on a law that says ‘brain dead’ and definitely not a doctor who runs the facility that caused the brain death in the first place.”

The hospital’s statement Sunday said they were supporting Jahi’s family.

“We continue to do so despite their lawyer’s criticizing the very hospital that all along has been working hard to be accommodating to this grieving family,” the hospital said.

15 comments

  • Mr So Correct it hurts, Sr.

    As stated, brain dead is dead. Not one person in the history of medicine has ever “came back” from brain death. $22,700.00 would not cover much more than a day of such life support efforts and transportation. No other hospital will receive a deceased person, they only will take patients that are alive. Reality ceases in this case, it’s sad that she passed its sadder they will not bury her remains.

  • Kitty

    Please let some sort of divine intervention wake these grieving parents up and donate this dead child’s organs before it is too late to save another living child!

    • Matt Way

      you are stupid… all there is to it… STUPID yeah let the doctors who just killed your child take her organs….. i doubt that family would let them play operation after basically murdering the child atleast thats how it has seemed to me in reading all of this. I want to know whats going to happen to those doctors responsible i’ve never heard of anyone going brain dead from getting their tonsils removed. and again…. you are a idiot KITTY…. wake up…

      • Stephen Melton

        The morbidity rate associated with tonsillectomy is 2% to 4% due to post-operative bleeding; the mortality rate is 1 in 15,000, due to bleeding, airway obstruction, or anesthesia complications.
        Not my fault you have never heard of someone dying this way. It happens and there are risks with even getting teeth pulled.

        As far as letting the docs there harvest organs….never know what life could be saved by it. The doctors killed her you say….how so? Death is a risk we take everyday, and having surgery adds to it.
        She had complications AFTER the surgery, from the familys own words…and since none of us where there, and can only go on limited information provided due to the family telling the hospital they can not divulge any information that might give a clue to what happened, it would be stupid to jump the gun and blame anyone since these things happen, 1 out of every 15,000 is the chance…

        You know, I can understand if you only read one side of it, the family. But Im sure that no doctor “murdered” the child. I cant imagine the family right now, would not want to be in their place, but other questions remain…and sadly, we wont know a thing until they can autopsy the body to determine what actually killed her, and as long as they keep her hooked up and basically fight over a dead body, there is no way to tell as the body is healing itself, granted, only due to a machine.

        She is brain dead, not in a coma. Its been proven. IF she was in a coma, the family would have to work with the hospital, but shes brain dead. The heart can NOT continue on its own…without help…the help is being given, and thats the only reason shes existing. Not a coma, not a persistent vegetative state.. its no function at all of the brain.

        So , her comment wasnt stupid…simply based on medical facts.

        That would be like someone calling you stupid because you didnt take the time to research the morbidity rate of a surgery. You probably havent heard of folks dying at the dentist for simple procedures, but it happens.

      • Lucy

        This was a more complex surgery than just getting the tonsils took out.Was the hospital at fault,maybe so,could they have been quicker with her care and saved her I think so BUT it is all too late now,the only good to come of this would be to donate her organs,if they still can to help save other lives,that would be the purpose.It is all so sad that they lost their lil girl so young and I know they dont want to say goodbye,but she is already gone,they can make something good out of her life by helping save someone elses.

    • tsilver

      Kitty, I agree with you. But sometimes there comes a time when faith overcomes practicing medicine. I, like you, would weigh the outcome and donate my child’s organs to help otrs live. This is a terrible situation for the family and on the is not easy to make. Prayers for them.

  • Shondrell

    Our god is a powerful one he had the last say so. For the spokesperson to say not even prayer will help clearly don’t kno the power of prayer

    • Stephen Melton

      You are right about who has last say, and from the looks of things, He spoke on Dec 12th.
      Prayer is a funny thing…if you pray, and it “works”, you can say LOOK, it worked non believer….and if it fails, you can say, well, God had other plans.
      As far as the spokesperson saying that no amount of prayer will work…thats because it wont…if it would, it would have worked prior to now. The young girl died on Dec 12th and while its sad, and its something that many have followed hoping for a change in her condition, its time to face facts and admit that shes been gone.
      For future reference, its proper to capitalize the word God, and in some religions, its G-d, as some consider spelling it that way, a sign of respect. You would also capitalize the H in He.
      I really hate to nitpick that, but considering the condescending tone of your post, it would be good to correct you as it shows no respect to the Deity you pray to for help.

  • k

    my nephew passed the same way, its tragic, but true, brain death is death itself, there is no coming back when there is no brain function whatsoever, i do believe in prayer but praying for recovery while someone is on life support for brain death is not based in reality, if you pray, and then disconnect the machines, it is in gods hands at that point whether she responds or not, if not its time to let go, my brother had to make that choice, he knew that keeping my nephew hooked up to a bunch of machines was for for himself rather than my nephew

  • Mr So Correct it hurts, Sr.

    No deadline now, another idiot judge extended it it Jan 7 2014. She will have been deceased for a month by that time.

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