The family of a 13-year-old Oakland girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy led a prayerful march on Monday to the courthouse where a judge selected an independent doctor to determine whether Jahi McMath shows any signs of life. Cheryl Hurd reports.
The family of a 13-year-old Oakland girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy led a prayerful march on Monday to the courthouse, where a judge selected an independent doctor to determine whether Jahi McMath shows any signs of life.
As crowds wearing the eighth grader's favorite color purple chanted "Keep Jahi Alive" in front of Children's Hospital, Dr. Paul Graham Fisher, chief of pediatric neurology at Stanford School of Medicine, was appointed to determine whether the girl is legally dead.
Fisher is expected to present his findings to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo on Tuesday, and the judge will determine what happens next.
Monday, McMath’s family attorney was able to buy more time for Jahi. He was able to get a court-ordered stay, which means Jahi will remain on a ventilator until at least Dec. 30.
The family, who sat together, hands clutching together in court, also wants a third evaluation by Paul Byrne, a pediatric professor at the University of Toledo, a matter that was also taken up by a separate court in Oakland on Monday.
Byrne was the past president of the Catholic Medical Association. And he presented testimony on "life issues" to nine state legislatures and opposed Dr. Jack Kevorkian on the television program "Cross Fire," according to the website, RenewAmerica.com.
In a phone interview, Byrne told NBC Bay Area that he was not comfortable speaking about the matter because he hasn't been formally contacted by Jahi's family or their attorney.
Two doctors and three EEGs performed at Children's Hospital have already declared the 8th grader legally dead. (PDF)
"There is absolutely no medical possibility that Ms. McMath's condition is reversible or that she will someday recover from death," Dr. Scott Heidersbach, one of the girl's doctors, wrote in court papers released Friday.
Jahi’s family, with the help of attorney Chris Dolan, obtained a temporary restraining order Friday to prevent doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland from removing the girl from a ventilator.
After the Stanford doctor was chosen, Dolan told reporters outside that the family was "grateful" for the additional testing. "No doctor's determination" should end a life, he said, "without parental consent."
Jahi's extended family has been organizing marches and vigils to pray for a miracle to occur. All this because Jahi was declared brain dead on Dec. 12 - three days after she had a tonsillectomy that went bad. After the Dec. 9, surgery, Jahi began bleeding profusely and suffered a heart attack, fell comatose, and never woke up.
Jahi’s uncle, Omari Sealey, organized a Monday march on Facebook asking supporters to show up to the hospital wearing purple – Jahi’s favorite color – and march to the courthouse where the latest legal developments unfolded. At least 100 people showed up, carrying signs and shouting slogans all with the same message: "Keep Jahi Alive."
And on Monday, Jahi's mother, Latasha "Naila" Winkfield, dressed in a black T-shirt with her daughter's picture on the back, seemed agitated and confused. She said her daughter's ventilator had been turned down from "15," where it has been since Dec. 12, to "13." She didn't know what that meant and couldn't get any answers. After her hospital visit, she went to court.
Children's Hospital spokeswoman Cynthia Chiarappa told NBC Bay Area the hospital can't comment on the clinical specifics of Jahi's case. But she did repeat what was said in court on Monday: The ventilator adjustment was part of the normal maintenance of Jahi's care, and that the chief of critical care has "absolutely been keeping the family fully informed every step of the way."
In its court memorandum, the hospital said it has no duty to maintain life support because Jahi's condition is irreversible. On Monday, Dr. David Durand, the chief of pediatrics, spoke publicly for the first time, but essentially reiterated what he has said in past statements. He called Fisher a "known expert on brain death" who has performed many such examinations.
And he added: "We have the deepest sympathy for Jahi's mother who wishes her daughter was alive. But 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."
Jahi's family are devout Christians, however, who believe that because the girl’s heart is beating – even if she is on a ventilator – she is alive. They say they are still waiting for a miracle.
How the complications arose has not yet been explained by Children’s Hospital, which argued in court papers on Friday that the tonsillectomy was not exactly routine, but a combination of three procedures: an adenotonsillectomy; a uvulopalatopharyngloplasty, or UPPP, which is tissue removal in the throat; and submucous resection of bilateral inferior turbinates, which is nasal obstruction.
"It was much more complicated than a tonsillectomy," Durand said.
The hospital added that the state Department of Public Health and Children's Hospital are investigating the case, and that the "hospital is committed to learning what led to this catastrophic outcome."
NBC Bay Area's Chase Cain and the Associated Press contributed to this report.