A California teen girl at the center of a medical care debate has died five years after doctors declared her brain dead.
Jahi McMath, 17, was removed from life-support machines that helped her breath after she suffered from internal bleeding and kidney issues following a surgery, the Bay Area News Group reported. She died on June 22.
Her brain will be preserved in order for scientists to study it, the McMath family attorney Christopher Dolan told the publication.
Nailah Winkfield, her mother, spoke to the Bay Area News Group as she fought back tears.
“I’m devastated about losing my daughter,” Winkfield told the outlet, adding her daughter had undergone several surgeries since April.
“Everything I did revolved around Jahi. I think Jahi will be remembered forever because she defied all of the odds. My wish is for her to get some laws changed around brain death.”
“I hope she’s taught people — stopped pulling the plug on your people,” she continued. “Give them a chance.”
She added, “The only regret I have is taking her to get her tonsils removed.”
McMath’s case grabbed national attention in late 2013 after Winkfield refused to remove her from life support after doctors declared her brain dead following a difficult nose and throat surgery. She was 13 at the time.
Her family went to court seeking an order to prevent the hospital from removing a respirator and feeding tube.
The two sides came to an agreement that allowed McMath to be taken to New Jersey from Oakland, California, due to the state’s law that denies doctors the chance of removing brain dead patients if the family objects.
Winkfield documented her daughter’s journey in the Facebook page “Keep Jahi McMath on Life Support.” She celebrated her daughter’s 17th birthday with a post honoring her.
“Jahi McMath ~ Highly favored, deeply loved, richly blessed, amazingly graced,” Winkfield wrote. “Four years ago, you were given less than a month to live, even on life support, 4 years later, you are here, taken breaths on your own.”
“One day at a time. Jahi loves life, and she’s fighting for it,” she continued. “Happy 17th Birthday Jahi, we love you, and God loves you more.”
While doctors declared McMath brain dead, the Facebook page dedicated to her claimed McMath could breathe on her own and hold a pen.
Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told the Associated Press in 2014 he knew of no cases of a brain-death determination being reversed. He cautioned that the data collected on Jahi had to be examined by other researchers and experts in the field before any conclusions can be made.
“Were this to be true, it would be an earth-shattering development in understanding death,” Caplan said. “They’re playing a high-stakes game.”