OAKLAND, Calif. —
The family of a 13-year-old brain dead girl at Children's Hospital Oakland said they won a victory Tuesday after hospital officials announced they would keep her on life support indefinitely.
The parents of Jahi McMath were preparing to file a cease-and-desist order request Tuesday after hospital officials said the day before that they were planning to remove the teenager from life support.
“I just don't think I can sit here and let them take her,” said McMath’s mother Nailah Winkfield. “I'm her mother I'll fight for her to the end.”
All day and night, family and friends kept a vigil as McMath lay in the hospital ICU brain dead.
“She did not come in her like this," said Winkfield. "She was not a sick child; she was perfectly healthy."
According to medical staff, there was no good description for McMath's condition. She's not alive but her heart is beating and a ventilator keeps her breathing.
Doctors ran another test on McMath Tuesday morning searching for some sign of improvement in her brain activity. The family, who were huddling around the little girl in the ICU unit, was awaiting word of those test results.
“I asked them last night -- can you run another test on her?” said Winkfield. “To me there’s no limit. I asked the man (doctor) – ‘Do you have children?’ He said yes…Then you’ll want somebody to run an extra test to see if you’re child has brain activity.”
Then later Tuesday afternoon, Winkfield, along with McMath’s uncle Omari Sealey and lawyer Christopher Dolan, announced to reporters that hospital officials informed them that McMath would be kept on life support indefinitely.
The announcement came after Dolan delivered a letter demanding the hospital not terminate life support Tuesday morning.
“The hospital has now backed off from the efforts to remove live support,” said Dolan.
“We're not on doctor's time anymore we're on god's time, providing us more time to get together and pray,” said Sealey.
McMath, an eighth-grade student at the E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in Oakland, went to Children's Hospital Oakland on Dec. 9 to have her tonsils removed to cure a sleep apnea problem.
But Sealey said McMath had trouble breathing and suffered “an enormous amount of bleeding” after the surgery, which had been expected to be routine.
“No one knew what was going on” for several days, according to Sealey.
On Thursday, McMath went into cardiac arrest and was later declared brain dead.
The following Monday, hospital officials had told the family that the little girl would be taken off life support.
The family had asked hospital staff to feed McMath through a tube and give antibiotics. They say her insurance continues to pay.
“We didn't want her to be removed from life support but the decision is out of our hands because it’s been declared a legal death,” said Sealey.
“We need her on as long as possible, because I really believe that god will wake her up,” said Winkfield.
The announcement has signaled the beginning of an “ethical standoff” Tuesday.
End of life experts say no one has ever recovered from brain death, as it's not a coma or vegetative state.
Medical ethicists told KTVU on Tuesday that brain death means “legally dead” and actually that no one is required to keep a dead body on a ventilator.
American Academy of Neurology guidelines require only one bedside exam to determine whether or not a patient is brain dead and as of Tuesday, Children's hospital has apparently done several.
Experts told KTVU that the hospital was extending McMath's life support only out of compassion for her surviving family who, almost cruelly, see the appearance of life.
“If her heart is still beating, why are you trying to take her off life support? Obviously there's still a chance she can survive,” said Betty Chapman, McMath’s aunt.
The family says if the hospital attempts to remove McMath’s life support, they'll go to court to try to get an injunction.
According to Sealey, the family planned to hold a public prayer meeting on Wednesday at the Paradise Baptist church in Oakland. The event is supposed to run from 6 to 7 p.m. and it will be open to the public.
"We are asking everyone across the world to pray with us," said Sealey.