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California Girl Receives Feeding Tube at Family’s Request

A thirteen-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead last month after undergoing tonsil surgery has finally received the feeding and breathing tubes her family has been fighting for. The lawyer for Jahi McMath’s family, Christopher Dolan, stated that doctors inserted the gastric and tracheostomy tubes yesterday at the undisclosed facility that the girl was transported to on January 5. Dolan reported that the procedure was a success and that Jahi is receiving the treatment her family believes she should have received when she was first declared brain dead at Children’s Hospital Oakland twenty-eight days ago.

On December 9, Jahi underwent tonsil surgery, which went horribly wrong and led to Jahi bleeding heavily, going into cardiac arrest, and then being declared brain dead three days later. Jahi was placed on a ventilator, which her mother fought to keep her on after Children’s Hospital Oakland announced it would remove Jahi from the breathing machine that has kept her heart beating. The family went to court and battled with the hospital for a week before they were able to get Jahi moved to a new facility. Omari Sealey, Jahi’s uncle, stated that Jahi is now at a facility that shares the family’s belief that Jahi is still alive.

Medical experts have said that the ventilator will not work forever, though, and providing care for a patient whom three doctors have declared legally dead will likely prove challenging because there is no blood flow or electrical activity in either Jahi’s cerebrum or brain stem, which controls her breathing. Dr. Paul Vespa, director of neurocritical care at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that brain dead patients who are kept on ventilators generally experience deterioration of their bodies, which can cause blood pressure to drastically drop and the heart to stop. This process can occur as quickly as a few days or can last over months.

Calif. teen called ‘brain dead’ gets feeding tube, January 9, 2013

While Jahi and her family have been going through this awful experience, an advocacy group is facing harsh criticism for using Jahi’s case in an attempt to raise money. The group stated that it fights for patient safety for families like Jahi’s and that it drafted a proposed measure for this coming November’s ballot that would raise California’s medical malpractice limits. Dolan is a board member of Consumer Attorneys of California, the main group funding the ballot initiative to raise the limit on pain and suffering awards. Despite this position, Dolan says he was alarmed when he discovered that Consumer Watchdog was using Jahi’s name in its fundraising efforts. Consumer Watchdog stated in an email that the funds were not going towards the political campaign. The email also said, “Hospitals like Children’s actually have an incentive to let children like Jahi die. If kids injured by medical negligence die, the most their families can recover is $250,000 . . . If children who are victims of medical negligence live, hospitals are on the hook for medical bills for life, which could be millions.” If the initiative is placed on the November ballot and it passes, the cap on medical malpractice awards would rise to around $1.2 million.

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