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New Medical Exam Ordered for Brain Dead Oakland Girl

| December 23, 2013
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(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

The case of Jahi McMath, the Oakland teenager declared brain dead earlier this month after complications from a tonsillectomy at Oakland’s Children Hospital, is entering a new phase this afternoon. McMath’s family won a temporary restraining order last week to keep the 13-year-old on a ventilator, and this morning Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered an independent medical examination of the girl. Grillo chose Dr. Paul Graham Fisher of Stanford, a pediatric neurologist, to examine McMath to assess her brain function. The hospital’s physicians say McMath’s brain has ceased functioning — a condition that leaves her effectively dead — and has sought to remove her from a ventilator.

Fisher, whom the Contra Costa Times reports was chosen from lists of doctors submitted by both the hospital and McMath’s family, is reportedly examining the girl today. McMath’s family also wants another physician, Dr. Paul Byrne of the University of Toledo, to examine the girl. Byrne is an opponent of the concept of brain death, arguing it’s commonly used as a way to make it easier for hospitals to get organs for transplant. He recently likened a New York hospital case in which a patient was determined to be brain dead as “execution.”

This afternoon, Grillo extended his order keeping the teen-ager on a ventilator through Dec. 30.

The Times also reports the family is trying to rally public support for keeping the teenager on the ventilator while they seek to place her in another care facility:

As [this morning's] hearing took place at a downtown Oakland court, about 50 family members and supporters participated in an hourlong march that looped in a mile around North Oakland, beginning and ending at Children’s Hospital Oakland, carrying signs and chanting “Keep Jahi alive”.

Derrick Mann, Jahi’s godfather and pastor at Yeshua Ministries of Hayward, led a prayer at the end of the march, calling upon God to go into the hospital and breathe life into Jahi.

“I feel like they should keep her on life support as long as they can,” said Chequalah McMath, 21, Jahi’s older sister. “I feel it’s wrong to pull the plug just because they want to. I feel like there is hope if we just leave it up to God. We pray every day, all day and all night.”

A judge ruled last week that officials at the hospital were to keep Jahi on the ventilator until the court-appointed doctor examined her. Nailah Winkfield sent out pictures through social media on Monday showing that Jahi’s ventilated breaths were reduced from 15 to 13, but Dr. Durand said that such a change is in keeping with “the status quo” of maintaining Jahi’s condition. Judge Grillo emphasized at the hearing that the restraining order remains in effect at least until Tuesday morning.

KQED’s Mina Kim spoke with David Magnus, professor of pediatrics and director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, regarding the case.

Here’s the latest on the story from the Associated Press:

By Jason Dearen
Associated Press

OAKLAND — With a family fighting a hospital to keep their brain-dead daughter on life support just days before Christmas, a California judge on Monday ordered a second medical evaluation for 13-year-old Jahi McMath.

Jahi experienced complications following a tonsillectomy at Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

As her family sat stone-faced in the front row of the courtroom, an Alameda County judge called for Jahi to be independently examined by Paul Graham Fisher, the chief of child neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The examination was expected to occur later on Monday.

Hospital staff and Fisher will conduct an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and tests to see if blood is still flowing to Jahi’s brain.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital concluded the girl was brain dead on Dec. 12 and wanted to remove her from life support.

Jahi’s family wants to keep her hooked up to a respirator, and eventually have her moved to another facility.

The family said they believe she is still alive, and that the hospital should not remove her from the ventilator without their permission.

“It’s wrong for someone who made mistakes on your child to just call the coroner … and not respect the family’s feeling or rights” Sandra Chatman, Jahi’s grandmother, said in the hallway outside the courtroom.

“I know Jahi suffered and it tears me up.”

The family’s attorney also asked Judge Evelio Grillo to allow a third evaluation by Paul Byrne, a pediatric professor at the University of Toledo. The hospital’s attorney objected to Byrne, saying he is not a pediatric neurologist.

The judge is expected to take up the request to use Byrne, and another hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning, Christmas Eve.

Jahi’s family says the girl bled profusely after a tonsillectomy and then went into cardiac arrest before being declared brain dead.

Outside the courtroom, Dr. David Durand, chief of pediatrics at Children’s, said that staff have the “deepest sympathy” for the family, but that Jahi is brain dead.

“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,” he said.

Durand said Jahi’s surgery was “very complex,” not simply a tonsillectomy.

“It was much more complicated than a tonsillectomy,” Durand said. He refused to elaborate, citing health care privacy laws.

Christopher Dolan, the family’s attorney, vowed to keep Jahi hooked to the ventilator through Christmas, saying he would file an appeal if the judge orders her removed from the machine on Tuesday.

“I am confident she’ll live through Christmas,” a visibly weary Dolan said after the hearing. Dolan said he is working the case for free after the family reached out for help a week earlier.

Given the very public battle over Jahi’s treatment, the judge pleaded with attorneys on both sides to continue speaking with each other and the family to help prepare for his eventual final order.

“This is a very, very charged case. The stakes are very high because there’s a young girl involved,” Grillo said.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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