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You might have seen the tragic story of Jahi McMath on the news recently. Jahi is a 13-year old girl who went to Children’s Hospital Oakland for a routine tonsillectomy. Shortly after the surgery, she was pronounced brain dead. The family’s uncle has stated that the family believes there was a surgical error that led to her condition. Jahi went in for a tonsillectomy to help with her sleep apnea. After the surgery, she was in the recovery room when she began to spit up blood and clots from her nose and mouth. The family was told to collect the clots in a cup so they could be measured and studied, but no action was immediately taken by the hospital. Shortly thereafter, she went into cardiac arrest. Doctors declared her brain dead and advised the parents to take her off life support.
According to CNN, tonsillectomies are the third most common surgery in the United States, behind circumcision and ear tubes. Although there are risks with every surgery, the family clearly didn’t expect for their daughter to end up in a terminal condition. According to the family, the hospital is refusing to cooperate with their investigation into whether there was surgical error. They went to try and get the medical records from the hospital. At first, they were told they could get them, but then the hospital refused, claiming that the records were “not final,” and that "the doctors needed an opportunity to review their records to see if there were any 'errors' or any additional information that needed to be provided." The consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, has condemned the actions of the hospital and has called for an investigation into why the hospital won’t share the medical information with the family. In addition, the hospital is refusing to allow the family to bring in their own experts to examine Jahi and determine whether or not her condition might be reversible. The hospital claims that she is dead and there is no reason to further investigate. The family is fighting to keep her alive. The hospital has refused to give her a feeding tube, claiming that she was “dead, dead, dead, dead.” National attention has now been brought to this case. Hopefully this will allow the family to get the information they need.
It is hard to overstate how traumatic this must be for the family. They haven’t been allowed to completely investigate to determine whether or not there was surgical error involved. My heart goes out to them during this difficult time. The reality of the situation is that surgical errors happen. I spend most of my professional life examining the records of families that come to me for help in navigating this complex area. It is rewarding when I can help a family get answers about surgical errors or other causes of harm. If you need to talk to someone about a possible surgical error in your family, please don’t hesitate to call us at The O’Keefe Firm.