A 13-year-old Oakland girl will be removed from life support on Tuesday because she’s been declared brain dead after she suffered complications following a routine tonsil-removal procedure, her uncle said Monday.
Jahi McMath, an eighth-grade student at the E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in Oakland, was declared brain dead last Thursday after she went into cardiac arrest while recovering from having her tonsils removed at Oakland Children’s Hospital days before.
Under state law, brain death must be determined by two different doctors doing two different sets of tests at least 3 hours apart.
In a meeting with McMath’s family Monday, the head of the hospital’s pediatrics department said that because she had been declared dead under state law, McMath would be pulled from life support.
“We didn’t want her to be removed from life support but the decision is out of our hands because it’s been declared a legal death,” said Omari Sealey, 27, McMath’s uncle.
Though the Alameda County Coroner reportedly wanted to pick up McMath’s body on Monday, hospital officials told her family that her life support would not be pulled until the next day so they could have more time with her.
Sealey said McMath went to Children’s Hospital Oakland on Dec. 9 to have her tonsils removed to cure a sleep apnea problem.
But he said McMath had trouble breathing and suffered “an enormous amount of bleeding” after the surgery, which is typically a routine procedure.
“No one knew what was going on,” said Sealey.
Her troubles continued for several days after that, and then on Thursday McMath went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead.
Dr. David Durand, the chief of Children’s pediatric department, said in a statement that the hospital is “reviewing her case very closely.”
“Our hearts go out to her family and we want to support them during this extremely difficult time,” said Durand’s statement.
But he also said the hospital can’t disclose any of the details of McMath’s case because her family has asked it not to disclose them to the news media.
“With any surgical or medical procedure there are inherent risks and in rare occasions there are unexpected outcomes,” said Melinda Krigel, a spokesperson for the hospital.
Dr. Daniel Robbins, a pediatrician based in Lafayette, told KTVU on Monday that patients die in about one in 25,000 tonsillectomies.
“There are pros and cons that need to be thought through carefully, said Dr. Robbins of LaMorinda Pediatrics. “But by and large this actually is a procedure that is relatively safe fewer and fewer children now have it done although it can dramatically improve, say, sleep apnea that her family says Jahi had.”
The procedure consists of a surgeon removing enlarged tissues at the back of the throat tonsils and sometimes adenoids. Complications, though rare, include post-operative bleeding and drug interactions.
Sealey said McMath didn’t want to undergo the tonsil-removal procedure and told her mother, Nailah Winkfield, before she went under that “something bad is going to happen to me.”
But Sealey said Winkfield, his sister, told McMath that the surgery would help her sleep better and she shouldn’t worry because the hospital “is the best hospital” and the surgeon was the best in his field.
Winkfield said she “feels guilty” about convincing Jahi to have the procedure, according to Sealey.
“Something terrible went wrong,” Sealey said. “We hope the hospital’s investigation is conducted fairly and we get some answers.”
Sealey said he was in the hospital room with McMath during and after her surgery and has been sleeping in McMath’s room along with other family members.
“I saw blood come out of her mouth,” said Sealey. “The images will stick with me forever.”
Sealey described McMath as “a very sweet girl who is very innocent and pure.”
“She always laughed and giggled and never frowned and was everyone’s favorite,” said Sealey.
McMath has an older sister and a younger brother, according to Sealey.
“She was the glue in my sister’s household because she told everyone to clean their room” and do other things around the house, said Sealey.
“We’ve lost a very precious gift to the world,” Sealey said. “This is a severe loss to our entire family.”
The family told KTVU that as of Monday evening there was no decision yet on whether to donate McMath’s organs for transplant.