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Brain Dead Teen Seeks Care in NY



    Calif. Dept. of Public Health Investigating Jahi McMath Case

    There are new reports that the California Department of Public Health is investigating Children's Hospital and the tonsil surgery in the Jahi McMath case. NBC Bay Area's Kris Sanchez reports from the hospital in Oakland. (Published Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013)

    Though Children's Hospital in Oakland has yet to receive formal documentation from the family of a 13-year-old girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy, Jahi McMath's family wrote in court papers that they plan to move her to a center on New York's Long Island that specializes in traumatic brain injuries.

    McMath family attorney Chris Dolan told NBC Bay Area Tuesday he planned to "confirm today" that the Medford, N.Y., center — founded by a former beauty salon owner — was still accepting the girl. At the same time the family "is looking to find a place closer to home," Dolan said. Court filings state the alternate facility is in Arizona.

    The developments come one day after a judge extended McMath's life support until Jan. 7 in the latest struggle between the teen's Christian family, who believe Jahi is still alive because her heart is beating, and the hospital. Dolan has filed suits in Alameda County, state appeals and U.S. District Court  (PDF) in Oakland, essentially asking the same thing: To keep Jahi alive until she can be transferred to a facility that will accept her.

    RAW VIDEO: Doctor Says "Jahi is Not Truly Dead"

    Dolan on Tuesday also said the hospital still will not insert a tracheostomy tube and gastric feeding tube into Jahi to help in transferring her to another facility.

    "We got a letter back that said you can't bring anybody in," Dolan said. "So this is a constantly changing game for these folks, and it's not a game for Jahi."

    Douglas Straus, the hospital's lawyer, wrote in a letter to the McMath family that Children's Hospital Oakland will not permit the procedures to be performed on its premises because Jahi is legally dead in the view of doctors who have examined her.

    "Performing medical procedures on the body of a deceased human being is simply not something Children's Hospital can do or ask its staff to assist in doing," Straus said.

    Sam Singer, hospital spokesman, said Children's Hospital Oakland will gladly take care of the family's wishes, "but they need to come through."

    "The family wants us to hand over the body like it's a piece of furniture," Singer said. "That's not how this works. This is a very tragic situation. There are legal issues. There are medical issues. We need to adhere to the rules and so does the McMath family attorney."

    Meanwhile, a state appeals court on Tuesday refused to order the hospital to insert the tubes, saying the issue has to go first to the lower court judge who has ordered the hospital to keep the girl on a ventilator until Jan. 7 pending the family's appeal. The 1st District Court of Appeal said it would consider the issue at a later date, if necessary.

    Straus reiterated in his letter that the hospital would release the girl's body as soon as her family provided a detailed plan outlining how the move would be accomplished and written permission from the coroner. But he said neither has been submitted.

    "No facility has stated, unconditionally or otherwise, that it is prepared to immediately accept Jahi's body," he wrote.

    Singer also added that the hospital has not heard from the New York facility the family said is willing to take Jahi in.

    The founder of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, Allyson Scerri describes her East Coast center as a "state-of the-art" outpatient facility that helps to rehabilitate people with TBI, neurological disorders, Alzheimer's and dementia.

    In an interview with sister station NBC New York, Scerri said on Tuesday that "New Beginnings is all about life and that's what we believe in. We believe in hope and never giving up."

    In a Dec. 29 letter to Dolan, Scerri wrote that she was "aware of Jahi McMath's dire situation and we are willing to open our outpatient facility" to her in a new facility called The Brendan House, which is "near completion." She wrote that she would provide Jahi with nursing staff, licensed respiratory therapists and a pediatrician. Her letter does not address cost, or who would pay for the services. On a New Beginnings Facebook post, the organization notes that "this child has been defined as a deceased person yet she has all the functional attributes of a living person despite her brain injury."

    MORE: Extension Granted to Keep Jahi Mcmath on Life Support

    Scerri's website biography states she owned a beauty salon and then became a "leader in the health field began years ago when she started a support group for women with infertility problems." The site said she opened the center when her father suffered a TBI in a motorcycle accident. Steve Scerri is listed as the vice president of the company; his past business experience includes founding a cemetery center and three self-storage facilities.

    Nowhere on the site does the center state it addresses people who have been declared "brain dead," which is the same thing as legal death in California and other states.

    Dolan said in court filings (PDF) on Monday that the family hopes to move Jahi to the center and that they plan to send her there by air ambulance on a private jet from Oakland to Long Island for $27,950. (PDF) The family has been fundraising to achieve that financial goal. Dolan's filings also sought to compel Children's Hospital to insert a tracheostomy tube and gastric feeding tube into Jahi — surgeries the hospital opposes because doctors do not perform operations on people who are legally dead.

    Jahi's story has been making international headlines for the last three weeks, ever since she suffered complications from a tonsillectomy to cure her sleep apnea on Dec. 9. She started coughing up blood about 30 minutes after the surgery, her family said, and suffered a heart attack. She first was declared brain dead on Dec. 12. Two other doctors concurred, including a court-appointed, independent physician.

    That doctor, Stanford School of Medicine's Chief of Pediatric Neurology Paul Graham Fisher, wrote of "electrocerebral silence," along with no eye movement, no vocalization, no gag reflex and no spinal reflex, among other findings, in redacted notes (PDF) obtained by NBC Bay Area.

    "Overall, unfortunate circumstances in 13-year-old with known, irreversible brain injury and non complete absence of cerebral function and complete absence of brainstem function, child meets all criteria for brain death," Fisher wrote.

    However, Dolan cited in court the observations of Dr. Paul Byrne of Ohio, a Catholic doctor who told NBC Bay Area in an exclusive Dec. 27 interview he does not believe that brain death is "true death."

    With "proper nutrition and care" McMath can have meaningful recovery to the degree that she would not meet the "brain death" criteria, Byrne said in court filings.

    Byrne continued that he observed Jahi on Monday, and saw her arms and legs "squirming." In his opinion, he wrote, "this signifies that she is not dead."

    The California Department of Health is investigating Children's Hospital Oakland and Jahi's case.

    MORE: California Department of Public Health Investigating Jahi McMath Case

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.