Skip to main content

Jahi McMath's mother: 'I won't stop fighting' for daughter on life support

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 8:00 PM EST, Mon December 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "I just want her to have more time," Jahi McMath's mom says
  • The 13-year-old is on life support after tonsil surgery
  • An independent, court-appointed doctor will evaluate her
  • Doctors declared her brain dead three days after operation

(CNN) -- Nailah Winkfield doesn't know what a new court-appointed independent doctor will say about her daughter, who was declared brain dead after tonsil surgery this month.

But she has no doubt about one thing: her plan to keep fighting for her daughter to stay on life support.

"I'm her mother. I'm going to support her. It's my job to do it. Any mother would do it," Winkfield said in an exclusive interview with CNN's The Lead on Monday. "I just want her to have more time. There are so many stories of people waking up in her situation."

Doctors at Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, have said 13-year-old Jahi McMath is brain dead and won't wake up.

Family fights for daughter's rights
Teen brain dead after tonsillectomy
Mother: I won't give up on my daughter

"We have the deepest sympathy for Jahi's mother, who wishes her daughter was alive; but the ventilator cannot reverse the brain death that has occurred and it would be wrong to give false hope that Jahi will ever come back to life," Dr. David Durand, the hospital's chief of pediatrics, said in a statement on Monday.

McMath was declared brain dead December 12, three days after the surgery.

The case has drawn national attention and sparked protests from some local leaders who say the hospital should have provided better care.

On Monday, a judge appointed Dr. Paul Fisher, chief of pediatric neurology at Stanford Children's Hospital, to evaluate McMath.

Fisher is expected to testify on the case in a closed hearing Tuesday, according to court documents.

Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo also ruled that the hospital must hold off on any decisions regarding discontinuing life support until December 30.

And he encouraged both sides to work together.

"This is a very, very charged case. The stakes are very high. There is a young girl involved, and I think it would suit both parties well if you would speak with each other about how we are going to get through the next few days," Grillo said.

Ultimately, the fight pits the family's faith against what the hospital calls false hope.

Winkfield told CNN Monday that she's seen recent improvements in her daughter's condition. A hospital monitor suggests her daughter is trying to breathe on her own, she said.

"They told me without your brain, you can't take your own breath," Winkfield said. "Well, she's trying, so that means something's working."

Winkfield said the memory of watching her daughter bleeding profusely after the surgery remains seared in her mind.

The hospital hasn't done enough to explain to her what went wrong, she said.

"They have not given me a reason yet of why she went into cardiac arrest. They haven't even given me a reason for her bleeding. They haven't given me a reason that they couldn't stop the bleeding," she said. "The only thing they keep pushing for me is to get her off their ventilator."

Durand said Monday that hospital officials are looking into the matter and are "committed to learning what led to this catastrophic outcome."

"We are sorry that Jahi McMath suffered tragic complications from her complex surgery," he said. "Our hearts go out to the grieving family and community about this sad situation. We look forward to the independent expert's evaluation of the patient."

Douglas Straus, an attorney for the hospital, told the judge that McMath couldn't be brought back to life.

"This is obviously a tragic situation," he said. "A young lady has died and no one takes that in a callous or uncaring manner, but she is dead."

Winkfield, meanwhile, said she still has faith.

"I will not stop fighting for Jahi, because, like I said, I see signs of improvement," she said. "I really feel that my child needs time to heal."

CNN's Dana Bash, Elizabeth Chmurak and Stephanie Elam contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT