The family of brain-dead teenager Jahi McMath, who have requested privacy after the Oakland girl was moved to a private and unknown facility, will come out of seclusion this week to be honored by the Terri Schiavo Network for protecting "a loved one against overwhelming odds."
Jahi McMath’s mother, stepfather and uncle are the guests of honor on Thursday evening at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network's 2nd Annual Award Gala in Philadelphia. Conservative talk show host and author Glenn Beck will be the keynote speaker at the affair. It is unclear whether anyone in Jahi's family will speak publicly.
"Jahi’s family persevered through extreme pressure from doctors, media and public opinion to enable their child a chance to be properly cared for,” said Bobby Schindler, Terry’s younger brother, via email. “The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Award honors an individual or family who fought to protect the dignity of a loved one against overwhelming odds. It underscores the unconditional love a family has for a loved one in a vulnerable situation, who needs and deserves to be protected.”
Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years until her husband won a court order to stop giving her life support in 2005. Schiavo's parents and brother, Bobby, had fought to keep the Florida woman alive.
While brain death and vegetative states are two different medical outcomes, both Jahi and Schiavo are now flashpoints for the country’s heated “end-of-life” debate.
The Oakland family thrust themselves into the limelight in December after 13-year-old Jahi McMath suffered complications following a tonsillectomy and tissue removal surgery to help her sleep apnea. For unknown reasons, Jahi suffered massive bleeding and a heart attack and was declared brain dead on Dec. 12, three days after her surgery.
Since Jahi's heart was still beating, her family – devout Christians – battled in court and took center stage to fight to keep Jahi on life support, which the hospital refused to do, arguing in court that doctors do not perform medical functions on people who have died. Jahi’s family won a court order in early January to move Jahi to an unnamed facility that is caring for her, despite three doctors and California law having declared her dead.
Jahi’s exact location is not known, and how her mother has been spending her days has been a mystery to most.
The only public word from Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, since leaving Children's Hospital in Oakland came last month in the form of an open letter, where she wrote that her daughter is doing "much better physically." The last post on the "Keep Jahi on Life Support" Facebook page was on St. Patrick's Day, asking people to remember "Jahi and her family" and continue to pray for them.
Jahi's family had asked in court papers to move Jahi to New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, N.Y., but it is unclear if the teen were ever transferred there.
Terri Schiavo Network spokeswoman Ellen Langas said Jahi’s mother, stepfather Marvin Winkfield and uncle Omari Sealey are all attending the event. Langas said she did not know if the family would be speaking, but added that they are invited to, if they wish. Sealey, who was designated the family spokesperson, did not respond to an interview request on Monday.
Bobby Schindler said it was Jahi’s family attorney, Chris Dolan, who reached out to the Schiavo Network, which is now helping them “at no cost” to connect with the services and professionals they need.
The Schiavo Network shares a common mantra espoused by Jahi’s family: “Families, not hospital boards or politics, should dictate outcomes and they should not be pressured to choose a path that they don’t believe in. Jahi’s family members are dedicated advocates for her well-being and are looking out for her best interests.”