By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. This story, which ran in April, was the third most read post of 2014. In October two internationally respected neurologists, Dr. Alan Shewmon and Dr. Calixto Machado, concluded that Jahi McMath is not brain dead, but, according to Wesley Smith, “the Stanford court appointed independent expert says the evidence presented ‘isn’t enough.'”
When last we posted on the condition of Jahi McMath, the family of the teenager whom doctors had diagnosed as brain dead had won the right to move her from Oakland Children’s Hospital to an undisclosed location where feeding and breathing tubes were successfully inserted into the 13-year-old Jahi.
At the time, Christopher Dolan, the family attorney, told reporters the family would not be talking for a while. That silence was not broken until last week when Jahi’s mother Nailah Winkfield, gave an exclusive interview with NBC Bay Area and NBC’s affiliate in Philadelphia.
Lisa Fernandez of NBC Bay Area began by quoting Winkfield.
“She’s still asleep. I don’t use the word ‘brain dead’ for my daughter. I’m just waiting and faithful that she will have a recovery. She is blossoming into a teenager before my eyes.”
For those coming late to the story, Jahi has been on a ventilator since going into cardiac arrest following December 9 surgery to remove her tonsils and clear tissue from her nose and throat. Three days later she was diagnosed as brain-dead and the legal battle began in earnest when the hospital sought to remove Jahi from a ventilator over the family’s vigorous objections.
A truce was brokered in early January during a hearing before Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo, allowing Nailah Winkfield to remove her daughter from the hospital as long as she assumed full responsibility.
Hospital spokesman Sam Singer vigorously disagreed.
“We have done everything to assist the family of Jahi McMath in their quest to take the deceased body of their daughter to another medical facility,” he said three months ago. Singer told reporters that Dolan is “perpetuating a sad and tragic hoax on the public and the McMath family. Tragically, this young woman is dead, and there is no food, no medical procedures and no amount of time that will bring back the deceased.”
But Nailah Winkfield painted an entirely different picture of her daughter’s condition. She described Jahi as “very responsive.” Fernandez wrote that Winkfield said her daughter is “now moving her head side to side, something she hadn’t done before.”
Jahi, who is undergoing physical therapy, can bend at the waist and turn over in bed, according to her mother.
“No matter how many times you position her to the right or in the middle, she always ends up on the left side,” Winkfield said. “She will reposition herself over and over if she is uncomfortable.”
But Winkfield did tell NBC Bay Area that her daughter “is unable to speak or squeeze her hand. Jahi is on a ventilator and is nourished through a feeding tube. Her mother gives her vitamins and fish oil herself ‘to feel useful,’” Fernandez wrote.
Fernandez solicited input from outside experts who suggested she not put too much weight into what Winkfield is saying. Fernandez wrote
“In a phone interview on Thursday from the University of Washington where he is head of pediatric neurology, Dr. Sidney Gospe said he couldn’t put a ‘whole lot of weight’ into what Jahi’s mother had to say about her movements without a neurological examination. ‘Someone with expertise would have to characterize those movements as either reflexes or something initiated by her cerebral cortex,’ he said. Gospe added that a ventilator has the ability to help maintain a patient’s vital signs.”
But, as you would imagine, Winkfield was not dissuaded. As a measure of her determination, she quit her job at Home Depot to sit by Jahi’s bedside and relatives are caring for her other three children—two daughters and a son. Fernandez ends her story by noting
“There are many who have criticized the family for keeping a brain-dead daughter on machines.
“Winkfield, however, is paying those critics no mind.
“She’s too focused on spending her days caring for Jahi, giving her a manicure and pedicure every Friday, like she did at home. On St. Patrick’s Day, she painted her daughter’s toes and nails green with black and silver tips.”
“Winkfield also pores over case studies on people who have come out of deep comas, and she spends long hours reading the pages of the Bible, looking for hope and wisdom.
“’Literally,’ Winkfield said. ‘That’s the only book I read.’”