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Family of brain-dead girl seeks injunction to maintain life support

The family of a 13-year-old Oakland girl who became brain dead after having her tonsils removed plans to seek a court injunction Friday blocking the hospital from taking her off life support over the holidays.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland performed the tonsillectomy Dec. 9, hoping to cure Jahi McMath's sleep apnea, weight gain and other afflictions. But soon after her surgery, Jahi's condition quickly deteriorated, her family said. Jahi went into cardiac arrest and the flow of oxygen to her brain was cut off. 

The next day, a CT scan showed two-thirds of Jahi's brain had swollen. Doctors declared her brain-dead, and days later planned to take her off life support until receiving a letter from an attorney who intervened at the last minute on behalf of the family.

On Thursday, Jahi's family told KNTV-TV in San Jose that hospital staff declined their request to keep the girl on life support through the Christmas holiday.

"I don't want to have my Christmas every year remind me of her being taken off a ventilator," Nailah Winkfield, Jahi's mother, told KNTV.

The family's attorney, Chris Dolan, said his clients in a meeting asked the hospital to do several things, including feed the 13-year-old via a nutrition tube, keep her on the ventilator through Christmas and give the family 48 hours' notice should doctors decide to take Jahi off of life-support, the TV station reported.

Instead, during the meeting, the family told local media, that got a gruff response from a doctor.

"He said, 'She's dead, dead, dead, dead,'" and refused to give her any nutrition, saying, "We don't support the dead," Jahi's uncle, Omari Sealey, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The family fears that if they leave Jahi's bedside, the hospital may try to take action without informing anybody.

"They're going to have that body surrounded so that nobody can touch Jahi. They're afraid," Dolan told the Chronicle, adding that in the eyes of the hospital, "she's no longer a person. She's dead."

Hospital administrators, meanwhile, have publicly called on the family to allow them to discuss Jahi's case, citing patient privacy laws that currently bar them from doing so.

The chief of pediatrics, David Durand, issued a statement earlier this week assuring the community "that we are doing everything in our capacity to provide support to the grieving family."

“Our hearts go out to this patient and her family. Unfortunately, we have not been authorized by the family to share information with the public about this matter," the statement read. "Consequently, we are not able to correct misperceptions created about this sad situation."


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