Jahi McMath, whose family had refused to accept a ruling on her brain death so as to keep her on a hospital ventilator, died on June 22, according to the family’s attorney. In December 2013, Jahi was 13 years old when surgeons undertook a routine tonsillectomy on the teen. Afterwards, Jahi was alert and speaking to physicians. Soon, she experienced severe hemorrhaging and cardiac arrest. Medical personnel declared her brain-dead.
Despite the finding, Jahi’s family insisted that she not be removed from a ventilator at the the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, arguing that she showed showed signs of life. Battling for months in court, Jahi’s family and attorneys won an order from court to retain her on the ventilator. Subsequently, the family got obtained permission for Jahi’s transfer to an undisclosed facility that agreed to treat her.
Over the years, Jahi’s family provided updates on Jahi while also fighting to revoke her death certificate and thus declare that she was alive. In the fall of 2017, a judge in California ruled that Jahi was revoked to essentially declare the teen “alive” again. Last fall, a California judge ruled that Jahi was technically still be alive, but after refusing to throw out the family’s case added that a jury would have to make a final determination.
In a statement, family attorney Christopher Dolan said this week, “A preliminary Abstract of Death (Death Certificate) was completed by the hospital physician treating Jahi listing her cause of death as bleeding as a result of hepatic (liver) failure.” Jahi died at home with her sister, mother Nailah Winkfield, and stepfather Marvin Winkfield at her side.
Nailah Winkfield said she is “devastated by the loss of her daughter who had showed tremendous strength and courage.” Jahi, Winkfield, said, “forced the world to rethink the issue of brain death.” The mother added, “My daughter knew I was there and that I loved her, I knew she was there and that she loved me too.” Jahi will be buried in California.
The family’s legal battle will continue. Attorney Dolan intends to continue his pro bono work on behalf of the family “to have her hastily prepared death certificate reversed, and her date of death established as June 22, 2018.” In a 2016 article in the New Yorker magazine, Nailah Winkfield said, “No one was listening to us . . . if Jahi were a little white girl, I feel we would have gotten a little more help and attention.”
The McMath family’s malpractice attorney, Bruce Brusavich, argues that because Jahi was not brain dead, the California state limit of $250,000 on medical malpractice lawsuits involving children who die does not apply. In a June 2017 court filing, UCLA pediatric neurologist Dr. Alan Shewmon declared Jahi technically alive after he viewed videos that showed evidence that she followed commands and gave other proof of life. Children’s Hospital Oakland stands by its original diagnosis of brain death and that the videos do not meet the diagnostic criteria for brain death. While lawyers for Children's Hospital have argued that the Winkfield did not subject Jahi to tests accepted by the American Medical Association to determine brain death, the Winkfields’ attorney asserts that technology has made traditional tests obsolete.
Since March 2014, the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network provided an annual award to the McMath family in recognition of their “unconditional love they have for Jahi, and their courage as they continue the fight for their daughter against overwhelming odds." McMath's mother continuously referred to her daughter as “still asleep,” refusing to refer to her as “brain dead.”
Media reports revealed that Jahi was interned at a Catholic hospital in New Jersey until August 2014, after which she was moved to a New Jersey apartment.
Winkfield quit her job and sold her home in California and used savings to pay for her daughter’s care in New Jersey, which were supplemented by Medicaid and donations.
Winkfield and her lawyers have been trying to rescind the California death certificate as part of a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against Children's Hospital in Oakland. While the New Jersey death certificate obviates the 2017 court ruling as to whether Jahi is dead, attorney Dolan and the Winkfield family are hoping that their court fight will set a precedent so that others will not have to endure their situation in the future. Nailah Winkfield said that she hopes that laws will be changed and that people will “learn not to pull the plug so fast."