Judge Rules Oakland Teen Can Be Taken Off Life Support
(OAKLAND, Calif.) -- A judge in Oakland, Calif., ordered a 13-year-old girl to be taken off of life support on Tuesday after she suffered severe complications from a tonsillectomy almost two weeks ago. Jahi McMath entered the Oakland Children's Hospital on Dec. 9 to have her tonsils removed to cure her sleep apnea, her family said. After the surgery, family members noticed McMath was bleeding from her mouth and nose, McMath's mother, Nailah Winkfield, told ABC News station KGO.
"My daughter had actual clots sliding out of her mouth and they gave me a cup and said, 'Here, catch them with the cup so we can measure them,'" Winkfield told KGO. Winkfield said her daughter then experienced cardiac arrest.
"My daughter went into cardiac arrest and died and they brought her back and now she's brain dead," Winkfield told KGO. "She smiled when she walked in this hospital and I told her this surgery is to make you better."
The judge on Tuesday did provide the family with one week to appeal his decision, keeping the girl on a ventilator for the time being.
Dr. David Tunkel, an expert in pediatric otolaryngology, told ABC News that deaths from tonsillectomies are more common than many people assume.
The mortality rate for the surgery is between one in 15,000 and one in 40,000, according to the most recent numbers, which date back a few decades, said Tunkel, who is the division director of pediatric otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
More than half a million children undergo tonsillectomies each year, he said.
"Many children used to have it done for strep throat, but now 90 percent or more have it done for breathing problems during sleep, from snoring to obstructive sleep apnea. Those children can be at higher risk for respiratory problems," Tunkel said.
"There's a big path between a complication and becoming brain dead, which is a term I don't use commonly because it's such a rare issue. But certainly any time you're dealing with problems of breathing or safety of the airways, there's always concern that you maintained proper oxygenation," Tunkel said.
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