Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old girl on a ventilator who was declared brain dead by doctors in California after tonsil surgery, was released from a hospital to her mother Sunday night.
“The body of Jahi McMath was released by Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland to the coroner,” said David Durand, the hospital’s chief of pediatrics. “The coroner has released her body to the custody of her mother, Latasha Winkfield, as per court order, for a destination unknown.”
She left the hospital accompanied by a critical care team, attached to a ventilator, but with no feeding tube in place.
Family attorney Christopher Dolan cheered the development. “She is safely out of Children’s,” he tweeted.
Although a New York facility says it’s ready to care for Jahi, Dolan told reporters Sunday night that her destination won’t be announced.
“We’ve had people make threats from around the country. It’s sad that people act that way,” Dolan said. “So for Jahi’s safety and those around her, we will not be saying where she went or where she is.”
But New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, New York, said it is an option.
“At this time we’re named as the potential facility that Jahi and her family will be coming to, but we will know more details in a couple of hours, and we’ll certainly be happy to let you know as we know,” said Allyson Scerri, founder of the New Beginnings.
On its website, the facility bills itself as an outpatient rehabilitation center for patients with traumatic brain injuries and says it plans to open a long-term care facility. According to her online biography posted on the facility’s website, Scerri worked as a hair stylist for 25 years and founded the facility after her father sustained a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident.
“We are aware of Jahi McMath’s dire situation, and we are willing to open our outpatient facility to provide 24-hour care as an inpatient, long-term facility for Jahi with the required and appropriate medical staff that she depends upon,” Scerri said in a letter included in court documents last week.
The teen was declared brain dead on December 12, three days after doctors removed her tonsils, adenoids and extra sinus tissue.
A medical and ethical debate
As a fierce court battle unfolded between devastated family members fighting to keep her on the ventilator and doctors arguing she’d already died, the case has drawn national attention and fueled debate.
Doctors and a judge have declared her brain dead and said there’s no chance Jahi will come back to life.
“Overall, unfortunate circumstances in 13-year-old with known, irreversible brain injury and now complete absence of cerebral function and complete absence of brainstem function, child meets all criteria for brain death, by professional societies and state of California,” Dr. Paul Fisher, chief of pediatric neurology at Stanford University, said in a medical report on the case.
Medical ethicists, meanwhile, say the high-profile case fuels a misperception: that “brain death” is somehow not as final as cardiac death, even though, by definition, it is.
Covering the costs
So far the family has raised more than $48,000 on GoFundMe.com to move her. According to the site, more than 1,300 people have donated money in nine days.
“We’re very grateful, very proud,” said Omari Sealey, Jahi’s uncle. “We want to thank everyone that supported us, everyone that stood in our corner, everyone that prayed for us, everyone that helped donate to make this possible. Without out you guys, none of this would be possible.”
Scerri told CNN Sunday that the girl just needs to be given a chance to recover.
“Her brain needs time to heal. It’s a new injury,” Scerri said. “We believe in life after injury. All of us here at New Beginnings have first-hand experience because we have a loved one that was in the same situation as Jahi.”
Dolan said moving Jahi to a new care facility is critical to her recovery.
“We’re very pleased to announce that Jahi McMath has been taken from Children’s Hospital and brought to a place where they will use her name instead of calling her a body, and where she can get to the starting line instead of where Children’s has left her the past four weeks almost, at the finish line.”
On Friday, the Alameda County coroner issued a death certificate for Jahi.
The certificate, which still needed to be accepted by the health department to become official, listed December 12 as her date of death.
In releasing Jahi, the hospital said: “Our hearts go out to the family as they grieve for this sad situation and we wish them closure and peace.”
By Ed Payne, Catherine E. Shoichet, Joe Sutton, Martin Savidge, Janet DiGiacomo, Greg Botelho and Elizabeth Landau
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