Brain Death for Teen Girl After Tonsillectomy

brain deathA 13-year-old girl has suffered brain death after undergoing a tonsillectomy at an Oakland hospital last week. What was supposed to be a routine operation that required an overnight stay ended up going horribly wrong.

Jahi McMath underwent tonsil removal in addition to an adenoidectomy Monday, December 9th, at Oakland Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California. McMath suffered from sleep apnea, which causes breathing to stop and pause during the sleep cycle. This can cause daytime drowsiness. The surgeries were to correct this chronic condition but sadly, both resulted in brain death.

The complications from McMath’s surgery started when she began bleeding heavily from her nose and mouth post surgery. She started spitting up big blood clots, which were collected in cups and measured. But shortly after, the girl went into cardiac arrest. Reviving her was successful but the damage had already been done. The brain cannot function without oxygen for long. By Wednesday, her brain began swelling and brain death was announced. She was placed on life support Thursday.

The ordeal has angered McMath’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, who reportedly claims the hospital is forcing her to make a choice whether to take her daughter off life support: “They just have a social worker follow me around all day long asking me ‘do you have any other family that needs to see her?’ like trying to put a rush on it.” Winkfield intends to keep McMath on life support and will keep her on throughout the holidays if necessary.

McMath’s family is reportedly complaining that hospital officials are forcing them to leave the hospital and has prevented them from speaking with hospital authorities.

The girl’s grandmother, Sandra Chatman, reportedly told news outlets that her granddaughter had been nervous about her surgery. To reassure the girl, Winkfield gave the girl’s pearl earrings to Chatman to hold on to until she woke up from surgery.

Says Chatman, “It’s so hard to look at them. I get choked up. I’ll keep them for a lifetime. In every purse I carry. They will always be with me.”

Although both mother and grandmother blame the hospital for the tragedy, Melina Kriegel, a representative for Oakland Children’s Hospital reportedly said, “We will certainly investigate what happened. In any surgery there are risks and there can be unexpected, unanticipated complications.”

Surgery Risks

Postoperative mortality, which means death within two weeks of surgery, can occur when there are complications in post surgery.  According to a survey conducted through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in-hospital tonsillectomies have declined since the 1990′s for children under 18. McMath’s case is unique because she had an adenoidectomy with a tonsillectomy so complications from either surgery would be difficult to ascertain but hopefully there will be definitive answers from the Oakland Children’s Hospital after they conduct their investigation into McMath’s death.

In McMath’s case, there could have been several factors that contributed to brain death. Every patient responds differently to anesthesia and surgery and it is difficult to predict which patient will have complications post surgery. There is no guarantee of zero complications as every surgery carries with it some risks. The National Institutes of Health states in a published study that “a preoperative diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea was not associated with increased risk of death or anoxic brain injury.”

By Juana Poareo

International Business Times
Medical Daily
National Institutes of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

10 Responses to Brain Death for Teen Girl After Tonsillectomy

  1. KER February 24, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    How is this young lady and her family doing?

  2. Anya January 6, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Who was her MD? Who took care of this poor girl in PACU, RN or NA (even if grandmother helped). How many experienced RNs were fired from this hospital lately to bring more profit, but subsequently decreased the quality of care? What is RN to patient ratio care (especially if these patients have to go to ICU post-op)? Success of surgery depends on many factors: facility; MD; anesthesia (Toradol, +Steroids,=>bleeding, clots, bad airway, etc.); pre-op history (meds that were not mentioned); experienced RNs: not new, not LPNs, not NA for the patient that is overweight, with sleep apnea, going to ICU?? (must be very difficult T&A, with uvuloplasty-? it is usually outpatient procedure), and communication between all of these departments.

  3. RPh January 3, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Jahi’s family’s lawyers should investigate how much heparin she was given – where I work as a hospital pharmacist, heparin is often incorrectly dosed by doctors and nurses based on actual body weight rather than adjusted body weight for obese patients. This can lead to a much higher initial rate of infusion than should be given.

  4. macy ashington December 29, 2013 at 6:25 am

    what are her chances of a full recovery or not the doctors something went wrong this is a devastating blow obviously my heart & prayers are with the family they love their daughter very much & hopefully god will help them by his holy spirit to deal with this ordeal nobody knows what went wrong what was posted by the doctors or the family this shouldn’t have happened my brother had a routine surgery to implant a food tube in him he was not gaining weight or recovering when the mistake was found out he was dying he was on a breathing machine & he had a tube inserted in his neck to help him to breathe but the decision was had to be made by my farther to put him on a breathing machine he was going to have to have long term fulltime care at a facility the doctors were supposed to put a central line to feed him they did but that is when we found out that the food tube had not been put in the right place it was in the colon he died shortly afterwards he had a blood clot that killed him from the rectum the doctors who performed the food tube made this mistake that was supposed to be a routine operation as well they have not been held accountable at all my father could have filed a lawsuit against the doctor for medical malpractice this contributed to my brothers premature death that was four years ago

  5. macy ashington December 29, 2013 at 6:11 am

    we all should be praying for the family that they will find comfort to make a decision about their daughter to continue life support or remove the life support they are facing a difficult decision because this is their daughter whom they live very much & I am sure none of us would want to be in the same position the doctors are the ones who should have explained what the chances are of a full recovery or not

  6. Lamadrama December 24, 2013 at 2:55 am

    Perhaps she had sickle cell anemia – that would explain the large blood clots–as opposed to hemophylia — bleeding disorder or heparin – both would be a lack of clotting factor.

  7. macksmack December 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Language (@ C. Fish and Pete Abelard). Instead of publishing censorious remarks in regards to Poareo’s reporting or in defense of Children’s Hospital, let’s pray and hope for the best for McMath, her family, friends, and anyone else who has been negatively impacted upon by this horrible event.

  8. Juana Poareo December 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    I have revised the title. I regret the error in jumping to conclusions about the tonsillectomy. Thank you for speaking up.

  9. Pete Abelard December 17, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    You say it was a botched surgery and then you say the complications were post-surgical. Do you have any idea what you are talking about? This comes across as some pretty sleazy and unethical reporting. In fact, to protect the patient’s privacy, no clinical data at all has been released. So any judgments at this time are unfounded.

  10. C. Fish December 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Who says it was “botched”? Does the reported know what she is talking about, or just using an inflammatory headline?


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