OAKLAND -- A judge on Monday gave the family of Jahi McMath the gift of Christmas with the 13-year-old brain-dead girl, ordering that she be kept on a ventilator through next week while doctors perform more tests to determine if the girl has any chance of recovering.
A court-appointed neurologist was scheduled to report his findings in a closed hearing Tuesday morning, but no matter the result of the tests, Jahi's family vowed to keep fighting to keep the girl breathing.
The ruling Monday from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo will likely allow the family to spend Christmas in the girl's room on the third floor of Children's Hospital Oakland.
Above all else, the family wants "to give her more time," Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, said. "Hopefully everything will work out in her favor, because I know my daughter wants to live. She enjoys life, and I know she wouldn't like somebody putting a time limit on her life."
The family's attorney, Christopher Dolan, said that "hope stays alive if she stays alive," adding that he was grateful "that this family won't be attending a funeral on Christmas."
Grillo originally barred the hospital from taking the girl off the ventilator or ending her IV fluids before Monday. On Monday, Grillo appointed Dr. Paul Fisher, chief of pediatric neurology at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, to test Jahi's brain activity.
Fisher will present his findings in a closed-court hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in downtown Oakland. The judge has not said when he will rule on whether the hospital can take the girl off the ventilator after his order expires.
Jahi underwent tonsil surgery to correct sleep apnea on Dec. 9; she began suffering complications including bleeding after the surgery, went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead Dec. 12. Since then, the family has been embroiled in a public battle with hospital administrators in a case that has gained national attention, at one point saying that the hospital's chief of pediatrics told them the girl needed to be taken off the ventilator "quickly."
After the hearing Monday, Dr. David Durand, Children's Hospital Oakland's chief of pediatrics, spoke to the media for the first time and said that Jahi's condition was the result of a "very complex surgery. It was more complex than just a tonsillectomy."
When pressed, Durand said he was unable to discuss the case any further. Hospital officials have repeatedly declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing medical privacy laws and asking the family's permission to release information.
The family also wants to bring in a second expert: Dr. Paul A. Byrne, neonatologist, pediatrician and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Toledo's College of Medicine, who has clashed with other physicians over the diagnosis of "brain dead." Byrne, a devout Catholic, has said that brain death is not true death, a belief that contrasts with the majority of the medical establishment.
Both sides expressed satisfaction with Monday's ruling. Jahi's grandmother, Sandra Chatman, said it would allow Jahi's family to be "a little settled."
"We're not totally satisfied," she said. "But we do feel like we are finally being heard, and that this is a step toward making sure that Jahi is still alive on Christmas, and that's been very important to us since the beginning of this whole thing."
The results of the independent expert's examination of Jahi will do little to shake the family's faith that she can recover. Her mother, Nailah Winkfield, said Monday she has no plans to turn off Jahi's breathing machine if the exam shows the teen has no brain activity. Dolan, the family's attorney, said the hospital cannot make the decision to remove Jahi from the machines keeping her alive.
"It is our position that no doctor's determination can end a life without parental consent," he said, adding that he will "seek a writ with the court" independent of the doctor's decision to keep Jahi alive through the holiday. The family has cited their strong faith in prayer and are asking that Jahi remain alive through the holiday.
Dolan also said the family is "desperately seeking" to move Jahi to another facility where she can be kept on a ventilator, but that the process has been difficult because of the Christmas season.
"We are sorry that Jahi McMath suffered tragic complications from her complex surgery," Durand said in a statement emailed to reporters after the hearing. "Our hearts go out to the grieving family and community about this sad situation. We look forward to the independent expert's evaluation of the patient."
Chatman sat in the front row of the hearing with Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield and Nailah's husband, Martin Winkfield. Nailah and Martin Winkfield wore black T-shirts with picture's of Jahi on the front and back and the emblazoned words "Pray for Jahi."
While the hearing took place at a downtown Oakland court, about 50 family members and supporters participated in an hourlong march that looped in a mile around North Oakland, beginning and ending at Children's Hospital Oakland, carrying signs and chanting "Keep Jahi alive."
Derrick Mann, Jahi's godfather and pastor at Yeshua Ministries of Hayward, led a prayer at the end of the march, calling upon God to go into the hospital and breathe life into Jahi.
"I feel like they should keep her on life support as long as they can," said Chequalah McMath, 21, Jahi's older sister. "I feel it's wrong to pull the plug just because they want to. I feel like there is hope if we just leave it up to God. We pray every day, all day and all night."
A judge ruled last week that officials at the hospital were to keep Jahi on the ventilator until the court-appointed doctor examined her. Nailah Winkfield sent out pictures through social media on Monday showing that Jahi's ventilated breaths were reduced from 15 to 13, but Dr. Durand said that such a change is in keeping with "the status quo" of maintaining Jahi's condition. Judge Grillo emphasized at the hearing that the restraining order remains in effect at least until Tuesday morning.
In a legal filing, an attorney for Children's Hospital Oakland maintained that "two separate Children's physicians determined that Ms. McMath was brain dead. In addition, at the request of the family, three additional independent physicians -- unaffiliated with Children's and either selected or approved by Ms. McMath's family/next of kin -- examined Ms. McMath.
"Each confirmed the diagnosis of brain death. ... Accordingly, Children's has declared Ms. McMath to be dead."
But supporters are praying for Jahi's recovery.
"It's God's decision and not anybody else's, when they should go," said Diana Romero of Hayward, who decided to attend Monday's rally and march after reading about it in the news. "I think it's the hospital's mistake so they should give the family as much time as they need."
On Sunday, faith leaders called on Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to open an investigation into the case and called on the hospital to punish certain administrators whom the family said have been insensitive to their grieving. Chief on their list was Durand, whom they demanded should be disciplined or required to attend sensitivity training. The family has accused him of being insensitive in private meetings. Durand did not address those accusations on Monday.
Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH. Contact David DeBolt at 510-262-2728 and follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt. Follow Doug Oakley at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.