Jahi McMath: Teen at center of national brain death debate dies at 17, family says

Jahi McMath—the California teen deemed brain dead in a five-year saga that sparked a national debate concerning brain death and patient rights—reportedly died June 22 after undergoing surgery in New Jersey.

The late teen’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, told The Mercury News that McMath died after suffering internal bleeding and kidney issues following a surgery. The teen had reportedly undergone multiple surgeries since April at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick. A spokesperson for the New Jersey hospital declined CrimeOnline’s request for comment Friday, citing patient privacy.

In a statement, family attorney Christopher Dolan said McMath’s preliminary cause of death is listed as bleeding.

McMath was 13 when she underwent tonsil, throat, and nose surgeries on December 19, 2013, to treat her sleep apnea. According to a lawsuit, McMath continued to spit up blood three hours after the surgery but went without seeing a doctor for more than two hours. The family alleged that her oxygen levels plummeted and her heart stopped.

It was two days later that doctors deemed McMath brain dead. Doctors recommended that they take the 13-year-old off life support and donate her organs.

The family, citing their Christian faith, refused.

What followed was a drawn-out legal battle which entailed an Alameda County coroner signing her death certificate in 2014. Unwilling to accept their findings, the family brought McMath to New Jersey. New Jersey is the only state in the country that requires hospitals to accommodate religions that don’t recognize brain death.

The case became even more contentious last year when a California judge ruled that McMath might still be alive. As CrimeOnline previously reported, court documents included testimony from retired neurologist Dr. Alan Shewmon, who testified that videos shot from 2014 to 2016 suggested McMath is in a “minimally responsive state.” The teen’s mother had publicized footage showing her daughter’s fingers twitching and her responding to smells.

READ More: Jahi McMath, teen declared brain dead three years ago, may still be alive: Judge

Dr. Shewmon noted that McMath’s body hadn’t deteriorated in a manner that’s typical in brain-dead patients. Another doctor who routinely examined McMath stated that the teen was having her menstrual cycle—indicating that her hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates hormones, was working.

Including Dr. Shewmon, five medical professionals signed off on the affidavit saying that McMath didn’t meet the criteria for brain death.

Last year’s ruling also opened the door for the family to seek more damages against the Children’s Hospital in Oakland in their malpractice lawsuit. Her family wanted the hospital to cover the teen’s future care.

A statement indicated that McMath died surrounded by her mother, stepfather Marvin Winkfield, and sister. The family attorney said her body will be flown home to Oakland, California, for burial and her brain will be donated to scientists for research.

“My daughter knew I was there and that I loved her, I knew she was there and that she loved me too,” the heartbroken mother told CNN. “It is tragic that only now, after her death, can I bring my daughter home.”

[Featured Image: Jahi McMath/Facebook]