‘Corpse’ Breathing: ‘Brain Dead’ for Three Years, Teen Moves and Breathes


Doctors declared Jahi McMath brain dead three years ago this month, and a California coroner issued the 13-year-old a death certificate. But a video posted on the Facebook page Keep Jahi Alive  shows the now 16-year-old teen has begun to take breaths over her ventilator and a Thanksgiving prayer posted this week says her mother and family are “thankful that Jahi is Alive and fighting.”

Jahi McMath Breathing Nearly 3 Years after Her “Death”4

McMath’s ventilator is shown with a digital reading indicating patient breathing effort. Her mother Nailah Winkfield is heard explaining that readings above ventilator setting of 12 breaths per minute are independent and cannot be taken by someone who does not have any brain function. Apparently in response to Winkfield’s encouragement to breathe, McMath’s ventilator reading climbs to 13, 14 and 15.

Declared Brain Dead

McMath first drew international attention in December 2013 when doctors declared the girl dead following a tonsillectomy procedure at Children’s Hospital Oakland.  According to an  amended malpractice complaint filed against Dr. Frederick Rosen, the hospital, and others on behalf of McMath’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, and Jahi, the girl bled for more than seven hours after her procedure, while anxious requests from her mother and grandmother for a doctor to see her were refused.

Profuse blood loss caused McMath to suffer a heart attack. After declaring her “brain dead”, doctors withdrew her feeding tube. According to the complaint, hospital administration began “pressuring the family to agree to donate Jahi’s organs and disconnect her from life support” and the hospital’s chief of pediatrics, David Duran, slammed his fist on the table and said, “What is it you don’t understand? She is dead, dead, dead, dead!”

McMath’s family went to court to prevent the hospital from removing Jahi’s ventilator and used private funds to transfer her to New Jersey, one of two states that allow religious exceptions to brain death diagnoses, where she receives around-the-clock care. The death certificate issued for Jahi in California precludes her treatment there, as well as a court agreement to deliver the girl  to the coroner for an autopsy.

Ethicists had denounced Jahi’s family’s efforts to save the girl. New York University ethicist Arthur Caplan called them “ghoulish” and added that doctors treating her should be “charged with desecrating a corpse.”

“Her body is falling apart, ” Caplan told CNN in 2013. “At least, this can’t go on much longer.”

At an October 2014 press conference, McMath’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan,  released a brief video of Jahi apparently responding to her mother’s request to move her foot. Another video shows her moving her hand twice on command.

Last November, documents signed by renowned UCLA pediatric neurologist Dr. Alan Shewmon were filed in court stating that he had spent hours assessing Jahi and determined that she “no longer fulfills standard brain-death criteria” because she responds to verbal commands.

“Her brain is alive in the neuropathological sense, and it is not necrotic,” the paper states. “At this time, Jahi does not fulfill California’s statutory definition of death, which requires the irreversible absence of all brain function, because she exhibits hypothalamic function and intermittent responsiveness to verbal command.”

This would make Jahi’s the first proven case in which a person correctly declared “brain-dead” according to accepted medical criteria was then shown to be alive which would be a serious blow to the already tenuous medical diagnosis of “brain death” — and its dependent $20 billion organ industry.

The complaint also claims that Jahi began menstruating eight months following her diagnosis of brain death. “The female menstrual cycle involves hormonal interaction between the hypothalamus (part of the brain), the pituitary gland and the ovaries,” it states as the opinion of the examining physician. “Corpses do not menstruate. Neither do corpses undergo sexual maturation.”