If you've followed the news in recent weeks, you are familiar with Nailah Winkfield. While others reveled in the joy of the holidays, the Oakland resident has watched in disbelief as her world collapsed. Tonsil surgery on her 13-year-old daughter, Jahi McMath, and two other procedures intended to correct a sleep disorder instead resulted in some unfathomable complications.
The youngster suffered cardiac arrest on Dec. 9 that left her unconscious in an intensive unit at Children's Hospital Oakland. By Dec. 12, she was declared brain dead, and doctors recommended that she be removed from a ventilator that kept her breathing.
Shocking doesn't begin to describe the turn of events.
Since that day, Winkfield has fought a fight that defies logic, ignores medical opinion, tests the bounds of hospital protocol and likely resonates in every mother's heart. She's fought to keep her daughter on a ventilator and move her to a long-term care facility, certain that her child will awaken one day.
I've never met Winkfield -- or any members of her family -- but I can understand the waves of emotion that have made it so difficult to accept her daughter's passing.
My father's last breaths were on a ventilator in an ICU room, where my mother was faced with the same gut-wrenching decision that has confronted Winkfield. Stricken by a heart attack, he lay motionless for three days while a respirator rhythmically pumped oxygen into his lungs and my family prayed for some sign of brain activity.
My sister spent much of that time in tears, leaning against his bed and touching his hands, replaying in her mind the days of her youth when the two of them spent hours outside playing catch and honing her fast-pitch softball skills.
My mother paced back and forth from his bedside to a waiting room, grief never leaving her face. She kept reliving the day he crumpled to the ground in their entry hall. "We were going to go to the movies," she said, as if recalling the day's plans would somehow erase the reality of what happened.
My thoughts raced across the years and the many lessons I'd learned at his side. He was an imposing man -- 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds -- who'd succeeded at nearly everything he tried. He was easy to admire -- as a son who doted on his widowed mother, as an attentive father who coached my Little League teams, as a happily retired businessman who survived open-heart surgery and a knee replacement without ever losing his sense of humor.
Barely a week before his death, at 78, Dad recorded a score of 77 for 18 holes of golf, living every hacker's fantasy by shooting less than his age. He sometimes seemed bigger than life.
It was difficult to reflect on all that made him who he was and realize that with the flick of a switch he would no longer be with us.
The decision to remove him from the ventilator tore my mother apart. I can only imagine the flood of memories that washed across her in those hours. She sought the advice of a heart surgeon and close family friend, then dabbed her eyes before paying a final visit to the man to whom she'd been married to for 57 years.
"Your father wouldn't want to be kept alive this way," she said.
Nailah Winkfield may eventually arrive at the same decision. But it won't be easy.
It never is.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.