Jahi McMath, California teen at center of brain-death controversy, has died

Jahi McMath, an Oakland teenager whose brain-death following a routine tonsil surgery in 2013 created national headlines, died on June 22, according to the family’s attorney.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jahi McMath, an Oakland teenager whose brain-death following a routine tonsil surgery in 2013 created national headlines, died on June 22, according to the family’s attorney.

She was 13 when she underwent surgery to treat pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that made her stop breathing in her sleep and caused other medical problems.

Nearly five years later, “Jahi died as the result of complications associated with liver failure,” the statement from attorney Christopher Dolan said.

She underwent surgery on December 9, 2013 at the Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. After the procedure to remove her tonsils, adenoids and extra sinus tissue Jahi was alert and talking to doctors and even requested a Popsicle.

According to her family, Jahi was in the intensive care unit when she started to bleed and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, 2013 she was declared brain-dead. Her family disagreed with the declaration.

This launched a months-long battle between the hospital, which sought to remove Jahi from a ventilator after doctors and a judge concluded she was brain-dead, and her relatives, who fought in court to keep her on the ventilator and contended she showed signs of life.

In January 2014, the hospital released the teen, and the family had her transferred to an undisclosed location for treatment and care.

In the years since, Dolan has released several statements that Jahi was doing well and even improving.

“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,” Dolan said in the statement announcing McMath’s death. He goes on to say the death certificate, “notes that Jahi had been suffering from an anoxic brain injury for 4 years. Anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Jahi suffered an anoxic brain injury as the result of severe blood loss after surgery at Children’s Hospital Oakland in December of 2013 when medical staff failed to treat Jahi or summon a doctor after she had undergone surgery on her tonsils, adenoids and soft palette to address a condition known as apnea.”

CNN has not independently verified Dolan’s accounts about what’s happened to the California teen or the status of her health.

Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland has maintained that they could not discuss Jahi’s case in detail because of privacy laws.

She died at home surrounded by her mother, Nailah Winkfield, stepfather Marvin Winkfield and sister, according to the statement.

Winkfield said she is “devastated by the loss of her daughter who had showed tremendous strength and courage.” Adding that she “forced the world to rethink the issue of brain death,” referring to the sweeping national debate about what legally and ethically constitutes death surrounding her daughter’s case.

Some medical ethicists have said the case has fed into a misperception that “brain death” is not death; that somehow, the body can live on, and that is life.

Winkfield said she is thankful for the last four years she had with her daughter and although her daughter could not talk to her, “my daughter knew I was there and that I loved her, I knew she was there and that she loved me too.”

She said she left her job, sold her house and most of her belongings and cashed in her savings to be with her daughter in New Jersey since 2014. “It is tragic that only now, after her death can I being my daughter home.”

Dolan said he will continue his pro-bono fight for Jahi, “through the federal civil rights case which was filed in the Northern District of California to have her hastily prepared death certificate reversed, and her date of death established as June 22, 2018.”

In the meantime, plans are being made for Jahi, who was 17 when she died, to be buried in California.