Declared brain dead almost 5 years ago, Calif. teen dies in N.J.

Brain Dead Girl
In this 2013 file photo, Nailah Winkfield, mother of Jahi McMath, cries before a California court hearing. New Jersey officials say McMath has died.

A California teen who became the center of a brain-death controversy has died, about four years after her family moved her to an apartment outside New Brunswick, N.J.

Jahi McMath died June 22 in a New Jersey hospital with her mother, Nailah Winkfield, and her stepfather, Marvin, at her side, the Washington Post reported.

In 2013, Jahi, then 13, had tonsil surgery at Children’s Hospital Oakland to treat pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, meaning that she repeatedly stopped breathing in her sleep. After surgery, she was alert, talking to doctors and requesting a popsicle. But she began to bleed and went into cardiac arrest. She was declared brain-dead three days later, CNN reported.

Doctors urged her family to take her off life support and donate her organs. A coroner in California issued her death certificate the following month, according to the Post.

Her family fought the declaration and moved Jahi to New Jersey to take advantage of a religious exemption. Under state law, if a patient’s faith dictates that life persists so long as the heart is beating, then brain death alone is not sufficient for a legal declaration of death.

Camera icon File
The families of Areen Chakrabarti, left, and Jayden Auyeung, have both gone to court to challenge Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia over its efforts to take them off life support. Jayden died on June 16. Areen and his family have traveled to Guatemala for treatment.

In Pennsylvania and most states, a diagnosis of brain death is enough to declare someone legally dead, meaning he or she can be taken off life support.

Recently, two New Jersey families have gone to court to challenge the efforts of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to remove their children from life support. Both families had hoped to move their children to long-term care facilities in New Jersey but were unable to find a placement without a tracheostomy, a surgery that would create an air passage in the neck. CHOP declined to perform the surgeries.

On May 4, Jayden Auyeung, who suffered from a genetic motor disease, was at his Edison, N.J., home when his airway became blocked. He could not be revived, and was placed on life support and later transferred to CHOP. On June 16, his life ended due to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, cardiopulmonary arrest, and respiratory failure, the family said.

In April, Areen Chakrabarti suffered smoke inhalation in a fire at his Bridesburg home, leading to what doctors at CHOP  diagnosed as brain death. Last week, he flew to Guatemala with his parents and was admitted to Hospital Universitario Esperanza in Guatemala City, where doctors have agreed to perform the procedure. Once he is stable, the family plans return to New Jersey, his attorney Christopher Bagnato has said.