NY Hospital Offers to Care for Brain Dead California Teen After Judge Extends Life Support

Tuesday, Dec 31, 2013  |  Updated 8:59 PM EDT
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A Long Island medical center has offered to provide 24-hour medical care to a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after tonsil surgery, and whom a judge ordered to be kept on life support for another week following a petition from a local hospital to discontinue treatment. Greg Cergol reports.

NBC 4 New York

A Long Island medical center has offered to provide 24-hour medical care to a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after tonsil surgery, and whom a judge ordered to be kept on life support for another week following a petition from a local hospital to discontinue treatment. Greg Cergol reports.

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A Long Island medical center has offered to provide 24-hour medical care to a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after tonsil surgery, and whom a judge ordered to be kept on life support for another week following a petition from a local hospital to discontinue treatment.

New Beginnings Community Center in Medford said it would take Jahi McMath, and arrangements have been made for an air ambulance company to transport the girl, along with a doctor, on a private jet from Oakland to Suffolk County, according to court documents.

Doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland in California, where McMath has been treated, say she will never recover, so they want to take her off the machines that are keeping her body functioning. Her family wants to continue life support, saying they have hope she will still pull through.

Shortly before a previous ruling would have allowed doctors to end life support at 5 p.m. Monday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered the hospital to keep McMath on a ventilator until Jan. 7 to give the family time to file a petition in state appellate court.

It's the latest twist in a harrowing legal and medical fight that has reignited a heated debate about when life support should end for a severely brain-damaged person.

On Monday, the family's lawyer filed suit in federal court, requesting that the hospital be compelled to perform a tracheotomy for breathing and to insert a feeding tube — procedures that would allow McMath to be transferred to a facility willing to care for her. The hospital has said it's unethical to perform surgery on a person who is legally dead.

With television cameras clustered outside the hospital, the family maintained a vigil as the deadline approached.

When McMath'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."

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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 McMath'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 McMath's relatives that she has shown signs of life, saying any muscle activity was an involuntary muscle reflex.

The family's lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said when he called McMath'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 McMath 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."

Doctors at Children's Hospital and an independent pediatric neurologist from Stanford University have concluded McMath is brain dead.

She underwent a tonsillectomy at the hospital Dec. 9 to treat sleep apnea and other issues. After she awoke from the operation, her family said, she started bleeding heavily and went into cardiac arrest. Then she was declared brain dead three days later.

In a declaration filed with the federal action by McMath's family, Dr. Paul Byrne, a pediatrician who has questioned the definition of brain death, said he visited McMath bedside and observed her responding to her grandmother's voice and touch with a squirming movement.

"In my professional opinion, she is not a cadaver," Byrne said. "Her heart beats thousands of times a day."

No one from New Beginnings Community Center in Medford answered the phone or email when NBC Bay Area reached out for comment early Tuesday. On the center's website, founder Allyson Scerri describes New Beginnings as a "state-of the-art" outpatient facility that helps to rehabilitate people with TBI, neurological disorders, Alzheimer's and dementia.

In a Dec. 29 letter to Dolan, Scerri wrote that she was "aware of Jahi McMath's dire situation and we are willing to open our outpatient facility" to her in a new facility called The Brendan House, which is "near completion." She wrote that she would provide McMath with nursing staff, licensed respiratory therapists and a pediatrician. Her letter does not address cost, or who would pay for the services.

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