The family of a 13-year-old girl declared brain dead by three doctors received an extension Monday to keep the eighth grader on life support until Jan. 7. Cheryl Hurd reports.
The family of a 13-year-old girl declared brain dead by three doctors received an extension Monday to keep the eighth grader on life support until Jan. 7.
Chris Dolan, the attorney representing Jahi McMath's family, tweeted with a big "thank you Jesus!!!!!" that they were able to receive the extension with under an hour left before a 5 p.m. deadline for the girl to be taken off a ventilator.
A judge last week ordered Children's Hospital Oakland to keep Jahi on life support until Monday's deadline.
Just before 4 p.m., McMath's family announced that they were filing a new complaint in federal court requesting a temporary restraining order and an injunction to keep the girl on life support.
"We are hopeful that one of these actions will forestall the hospital's rush to extinguish Jahi's chance at life," said Omari Sealey, Jahi's uncle.
The family's court filings (PDF) said the New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, N.Y., is willing to take Jahi and provide 24-hour medical care.
Arrangements also have been made, according to the documents, with an air ambulance company for a doctor to accompany Jahi on a private jet from Oakland to Long Island for $27,950.
By Monday night, the family's fundraising website had raised more than $27,000 for a possible transfer.
Sealey on Monday put an Instagram photo of his hand clasped together with Jahi's from a hospital bedroom - the girl's done in pink nailpolish - saying, "I will fight for you forever Jahi!!"
When Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, heard of the delay, she wept and hugged relatives outside the hospital. She said it was an answer to her prayers and a sign that she was right to keep fighting.
"Who wants to know the date and the time their child would die?'' Winkfield said. "I don't care what anyone has to say about what I'm doing. ... I have to do what is right for me and for Jahi.''
She said she does not believe her daughter is dead because her heart is still beating.
Sam Singer, a hospital spokesman, said it would comply with the judge's new order but would oppose any efforts by Jahi's family to convince a court that she is still alive and entitled to the same rights as a living person.
"We are hopeful we will be successful so this tragedy can end,'' Singer said.
He also dismissed claims by Jahi's relatives that she has shown signs of life, saying any muscle activity was an involuntary muscle reflex.
Dolan said when he called Jahi's mother at the hospital about the extension of the deadline, she said hospital staff had cleared family members out of a waiting room as doctors prepared to remove Jahi from the ventilator.
"He's giving us a meaningful opportunity to seek relief and what I consider a stay of execution,'' Dolan said of the judge's ruling. "I feel like I'm a death row lawyer, and it does not feel good.''
The attorney said he knows he has been widely criticized by some for giving the girl's family a false sense of hope. But he said, "I am fighting for the right of parents to direct the health care of their child and for them to make the choice.''
For the last three weeks, Jahi's family has been calling routine press conferences, jumping on social media, filing court papers and praying for a miracle following Jahi's Dec. 9 surgeries to cure her sleep apnea. Jahi's story turned into an international tale about patients' rights and the legal, medicial and religious definitions of "brain death."
The surgeries she received included: An adenotonsillectomy; a uvulopalatopharyngloplasty, or UPPP, which is tissue removal in the throat; and submucous resection of bilateral inferior turbinates, which is nasal obstruction. Singer described the surgeries as "complex."
About 30 minutes after the surgery, Jahi started coughing up blood and suffered a heart attack. She was declared brain dead for the first time on Dec. 12. Two Children's Hospital doctors also came to that conclusion.
So did Dr. Paul Graham Fisher, Stanford School of Medicine Chief of Pediatric Neurology, who was appointed by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo to be an independent reviewer into the case. Fisher presented his findings to the court on Dec. 24.
Fisher said there was "electrocerebral silence," along with no eye movement, no vocalization, no gag reflex and no spinal reflex, among other things listed in his redacted notes (PDF) obtained by NBC Bay Area. "Overall, unfortunate circumstances in 13-year-old with known, irreversible brain injury and non complete absence of cerebral function and complete absence of brainstem function, child meets all criteria for brain death," Fisher wrote.
Afterward, the judge ruled that Jahi was "legally dead."
But because the family are devout Christians, they believe that because Jahi's heart continues to beat, their once-bubbly girl is alive. Her mother, in a previous interview with NBC Bay Area, cited her daughter's toes curling and her warm body as evidence that Jahi is "trapped inside of her body, just screaming to get out of there."
The family enlisted the help of Dr. Paul Byrne in Ohio, a Catholic doctor who told NBC Bay Area last week that "brain death" is not "true death," and who they referenced in court papers to testify on their behalf.
The majority of Western doctors, neuro scientists and ethicists, however, don't agree with Byrne.
Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a phone interview on Monday with NBC Bay Area that there are a "tiny number of religious groups who don't accept brain death until there is cardiac death."
But state law considers brain death the same as "death." And Caplan said Children's Hospital doctors got into an unusual position when they didn't simply take Jahi off the ventilator the first time the EEG came back negative. Instead, they gave the family more than a few minutes to say goodbye.
And in that time, a slippery slope was created, Caplan said. He asked rhetorically if the Jahi case now will have people running "to court if they refuse to accept ...death?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.