Oakland girl declared brain dead in 2013 dies

Jahi McMath, an Oakland girl who was declared brain dead in 2013, died more than a week ago in New Jersey, where she had been receiving care and will be laid to rest on Friday, her family said Tuesday.

The then 13-year-old McMath was declared brain dead on Dec. 12, 2013 at the University of California at San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland after she suffered complications from a recent tonsillectomy procedure that was intended to cure a sleep apnea.

Nailah Winkfield, McMath’s mother, said:

“I’m very heartbroken over my daughter passing. But I’m very proud of her, because she defied all of the odds. They said Jahi would only last two weeks and she lived on for four and half years.”

After McMath was declared brain dead in 2013, her family filed suit asking for a court order that would require the hospital to keep her on life support.

Weeks later, the family and the hospital agreed on a compromise that allowed Winkfield to remove Jahi from the hospital as long as she took responsibility for the child’s care. As part of the agreement, the Alameda County coroner’s bureau issued a death certificate allowing Jahi to be released from the hospital on the condition that when her organs shut down the family would have to notify the coroner and bring her body back to Oakland.

McMath’s family then relocated to New Jersey, where a law allows for a family to reject a brain death declaration based on religious beliefs.

Winkfield said:

“If Jahi was going to pass, she should have passed in California … I thank the state of New Jersey and really wish that states would be more compassionate like them and adopt the same laws like them, where you can keep your family alive and it will be your choice and not be forced to kill your relative.”

Winkfield said she sold her house and quit her job in order to take care of Jahi, at times falling into a deep depression along with financial hardship. She said that although her daughter was declared brain dead, Jahi was still able to communicate with her head and feet.

On June 22, Winkfield said McMath, 17, was getting ready to have another surgery, however, her heart stopped while she was still on a ventilator.

Upon her death, the State of New Jersey issued a death certificate for McMath.

According to the family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, legal issues continue to surround her death, as two separate death certificates exist, each with a different date of death. The Alameda County death certificate says McMath died on Dec. 12, 2013, while the one from New Jersey says she died on June 22, 2018.

Dolan said the Alameda County death certificate is invalid, but said he hasn’t been able to acquire a burial permit because of the legal dispute surrounding the two death certificates.

However, this afternoon, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that regarding the McMath case, there was no hold placed on it and they “have no further involvement in this matter.”

Winkfield said Jahi’s brain will be examined by medical professionals to see what can be learned from her condition.

Dolan said two legal cases surrounding McMath are still open.

The first is a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking to declare the Alameda County death certificate invalid. The second is a medical malpractice suit against the hospital.

Services will be held for McMath at 11 a.m. Friday at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland and she will be buried in Hayward, Winkfield said.