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California brain-dead girl nears deadline for ventilator

Source: Reuters - Tue, 31 Dec 2013 12:26 AM
Author: Reuters
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(Family filing new legal action in federal court)

By Laila Kearney

OAKLAND, Calif, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Relatives of a 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy pressed an 11th-hour effort on Monday to get her moved to an extended-care facility as a deadline neared for taking her off a breathing machine.

Doctors at Children's Hospital in Oakland have said they intend to disconnect Jahi McMath on Monday evening from a ventilator that has been keeping her heart and lungs going since she lost all brain function more than two weeks ago.

Relatives said attorneys for the family were going to federal court on Monday to obtain an injunction keeping Jahi hooked up to the ventilator in Oakland until she can be moved.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a restraining order last week barring the hospital from removing Jahi - without the consent of her family - from the ventilator before 5 p.m. local time on Monday, Dec. 30.

The judge then denied a petition from relatives to extend that deadline, after two pediatric neurologists who had examined Jahi affirmed the hospital's medical opinion that the girl was brain dead and beyond recovery.

Family members, refusing to accept Jahi's recovery as impossible, have sought to have her moved to a licensed long-term treatment center in New York, and relatives said they had raised $20,000 in donations needed to pay for a cross-country airlift.

Jahi's grandmother Sandra Chatman, herself a registered nurse, told reporters outside the hospital in the afternoon that the girl had started to move her legs and appeared to be responding to voices of loved ones around her.

"She's moving and I'm excited," Chatman said. "I know we're going to have victory today."

The girl's uncle Omar Sealey later repeated Chatman's assertions to reporters that Jahi was responding to her mother's voice and touch and that he had video to prove it.

"We have a pediatrician who has seen Jahi who has sworn that she is not dead," Sealey said.

The family's lawyer, Christopher Dolan, could not be reached for comment on the status of the family's efforts on Monday.

The hospital said it would not stand in the way of Jahi's being moved to another facility. But officials there also refused last week to perform additional procedures that might be required, such as doing a tracheotomy and implanting gastric tubes in her body before a transfer.

Asked about whether it were possible for Jahi to be showing any signs of life at this point, Children's Hospital spokesman Sam Singer said, "It would be wrong and cruel for anyone to suggest that Jahi McMath is alive." He added, "The sad truth is that nothing could bring her back."

He also said it was possible that the family members might believe they had observed something that they wanted to see.

According to medical experts, Jahi's lungs and heart are only continuing to function because of air being forced in and out of her body by the ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease. Unlike an individual in a coma or a vegetative state, Jahi lacks any brain activity whatsoever, rendering her unable to breathe on her own, doctors said.

Jahi was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 9 for surgery to remove her tonsils as a means of treating her sleep apnea. Shortly after the procedure, she began to bleed severely, suffered a heart attack and brain swelling, Dolan said. Hospital officials declared her brain dead on Dec. 12. (Reporting by Laila Kearney, writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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