Mother of Oakland Teen at Center of Brain Death Debate Opens Up About Death

The mother of an Oakland girl at the center of the medical and religious debate over brain death recalled the last day she spent with her daughter at the hospital in New Jersey.

At a news conference held in San Francisco Tuesday, Nailah Winkfield said she could tell something was different about Jahi McMath who was about to go into another surgery on June 22.

"She didn't have that same look she always had that I looked for. I spoke with her and I said 'Jahi, if you're ready to you and you're tired, you don't have to do this for me. You have my permission, you can go,'" Winkfield said.

Winkfield announced earlier Thursday that McMath died last month from excessive bleeding and liver failure after an operation to treat an intestinal issue.

McMath was declared dead in December 2013 when she was 13 after suffering irreversible brain damage during routine surgery in California to remove her tonsils and a coroner signed a death certificate. Several specialists concurred after neurological tests.

Winkfield flew her daughter to New Jersey, where she has remained on life support and received care in the state that accommodates religions that don't recognize brain death.

"Jahi wasn't brain dead or any kind of dead," Winkfield said. "She was a girl with a brain injury and she deserved to be cared for like any other child who had a brain injury."

McMath's case drew national attention amid the debate over brain death and religious beliefs. Conservative religious groups rallied behind Winkfield and helped raise money for McMath's continued care.

Winkfield said she has quit her job, sold her home in Oakland and used savings to pay for McMath's care in New Jersey. The state's Medicaid program and donations have also contributed to the girl's care.

"These last four-and-a-half years have not been easy," Winkfield said. "I can go to sleep knowing I did everything possible for my kid and no one can take that away from me."

Winkfield and her lawyers had been trying to rescind the California death certificate as part of a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against Children's Hospital in Oakland.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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