The mother of Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old Oakland, Calif., girl declared brain-dead by multiple neurologists more than three months ago, insists that her daughter is “asleep” and “blossoming into a teenager.”
McMath was declared brain-dead Dec. 12 after complications during surgery three days earlier to remove her tonsils, adenoids and uvula at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland.
At least three neurologists confirmed that the girl was unable to breathe on her own, had no blood flow to her brain and had no sign of electrical activity in her brain.
A court order kept McMath’s body on a ventilator while independent experts could be brought in to affirm the findings. The McMath family secured the release of the body via the county coroner — which issued a death certificate — and has been keeping her on a ventilator at an undisclosed facility ever since.
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In an interview Thursday with KNTV-TV in San Jose, Calif., Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, said her daughter was “still asleep,” adding that she refuses to refer to the girl as being brain-dead.
“I don’t use the word ‘brain-dead’ for my daughter. I’m just waiting and faithful that she will have a recovery,” she said. “She is blossoming into a teenager before my eyes.”
Winkfield gave the interview from Philadelphia, where she was being honored at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network’s awards gala for protecting a loved one “against overwhelming odds.”
Describing her daughter as “very responsive,” Winkfield said McMath has physical therapy three or four times a week and moves her head from side to side.
Winkfield acknowledged that the teen remains unable to speak or squeeze her hand. She gives her daughter vitamins and fish oil herself “to feel useful.”
Her comments come about a month after she posted similar comments on Facebook, saying McMath had improved physically. Winkfield also thanked supporters for helping the family through an “unbelievably difficult time.”
Bodies of the brain-dead have been maintained on respirators for months or, in rare cases, years. However, once cessation of all brain activity is confirmed, there is no recovery, said Rebecca Dresser, professor of law and ethics in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
According to a U.S. District Court declaration from Dr. Heidi Flori, a critical-care physician at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, which had sought to remove the teen from the ventilator, McMath’s body will inevitably deteriorate, “regardless of any heroic measures that any facility in the country might attempt.”
“Mechanical support and other measures taken to maintain an illusion of life where none exists cannot maintain that illusion indefinitely,” she added.