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Family fights to keep brain dead daughter on life support

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 2014 4:50 p.m. MST

Nailah Winkfield, left, mother of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, is comforted by brother Omari Sealey as she talks to the media outside Children's Hospital Oakland, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. McMath, who was declared brain dead after complications of a tonsillectomy, will now stay on a ventilator through Jan. 7.

D. Ross Cameron, Associated Press

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Jahi McMath underwent a common procedure to get her tonsils removed. Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong, which caused her to go into cardiac arrest shortly after the surgery. Doctors declared her brain dead, but McMath remains hooked up to a ventilator.

While doctors, hospital officials and even a judge want to take McMath off the ventilator, McMath's family wants to keep her on life support because they believe she'll wake up.

"I would probably need for my child's heart to stop to show me that she's dead," said Nailah Winkfield, McMath's mother, in a video interview with CNN. "Her heart is still beating, so there's still life there."

The family has accused Children's Hospital Oakland of trying to take McMath off support for financial reasons and for not giving her proper nutrition.

Terry Schiavo's family openly joined McMath's family's fight to keep her on the ventilator Jan. 2, according to the New York Daily News. It was reported that they have negotiated behind-the-scenes with the hospital for some period of time.

Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state for a decade and kept on life support until her husband elected to take her off it. Schiavo's mother, father and immediate family members, however, strongly objected to taking her off life support. The case became a center of debate over the right-to-die argument.

The Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, an organization created by Schiavo's parents and siblings after her death, fights for patients' right to live and is making McMath a new focal point in that regard.

"Together with our team of experts, Terri’s Network believes Jahi’s case is representative of a very deep problem within the U.S. healthcare system — particularly those issues surrounding the deaths of patients within the confines of hospital corporations, which have a vested financial interest in discontinuing life," said the organization in a press release.

Doctors still argue that no blood circulation is reaching her brain at all and say there is no chance that she'll wake up. For this reason, a local judge gave the order that McMath be taken off life support after 5 p.m. Jan. 7 until both the family and Children's Hospital Oakland came to an agreement Jan. 3 to move her to a different facility, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The family hasn't revealed any details about the new facility at this time, but part of the agreement between the hospital and Children's Hospital Oakland is that McMath's mother take responsibility for anything that happens to her during the transfer.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story described the girl as being in a comatose state. The correct term is brain dead.)

Sam Clemence is an intern for Deseret News, where he works with the opinion section staff and as a reporter for the enterprise team. Email: sclemence@deseretnews.com

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