The family of Jahi McMath — a teenager now living in the Somerset section of Franklin Township — is suing the California hospital over the severe brain damage she experienced after a surgery there.
Family members also say in the lawsuit they were pressured to donate McMath’s organs after a chaotic an emotional scene at the hospital, and after its pediatric chief, slammed his fists on a table and said, “What is it you don’t understand? She is dead, dead, dead, dead.”
McMath was declared brain dead 15 months ago in California, and her plight gained national attention during a court fight over the removal of her life support. Her family is suing UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland and Dr. Frederick Rosen, who performed surgery on her to correct sleep apnea in 2013.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges the hospital recommended a complex and risky surgery, botched the operation and didn’t respond promptly and properly enough to prevent McMath from sustaining severe brain damage.
The teen lost a significant amount of blood and was deprived of oxygen before her heart stopped during complications following the surgery, which has resulted in a profound impact to the quality of her life, the suit states.
The family claims it was given conflicting information immediately following the surgery on how to treat McMath as she bled.
The family is seeking unspecified damages as a result of alleged medical negligence and the emotional distress they suffered.
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. In a statement, hospital spokeswoman Melinda Krigel said,”Our hearts go out to the McMath family. It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
“The lack of concern for Jahi was startling,” said attorney Bruce M. Brusavich of the AgnewBrusavich Firm, which handles personal injury/malpractice cases, and filed the lawsuit. “The (hospital) administration treated the family terribly after the fact.
“They gave them no explanations about what happened and had no compassion or respect for the family. The hospital needs to review and fix their practices about surgeon’s orders to recovery nurses. It needs to learn to be more open and transparent when there is an adverse event.”
The suit alleges that Rosen recommended a “complex and risky surgery for McMath’s sleep apnea, one that included the removal of her tonsils and adenoids, the removal of the soft pallet and uvula and a submucous resection or her bilateral turbinates.”
Rosen, the lawsuit states, opted for that surgery instead of a “continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine” that is usually recommended before such a drastic surgery, especially in children.
Also, the suit claims that in addition to using the CPAP machine before the complex surgery Rosen performed, typically surgeons start by “removing the tonsils and the adenoids” to see if that more modest procedure worked.
In Rosen’s operative report of his procedure, the suit alleges he noted that he found a “suspicion of medialized carotid on right,” which should have raised “a serious issue as to the extensive surgical procedure.”
“This posed an increased risk factor for serious hemorrhaging during or after surgery,” the suit states.
That information, the lawsuit states, wasn’t relayed to the post-anesthesia care unit and pediatric intensive care unit nurses.
McMath was 13 when Rosen performed a tonsillectomy on Dec. 9, 2013. After the surgery, her parents, Nailah Spears-Winkfield and Marvin Winkfield, were alarmed when she coughed up blood. The nurses, however, assured the parents the bleeding was “normal,” the suit states.
McMath lost two liters of blood as doctors and nurses attended to her, the suit states. Rosen, it says, wasn’t at McMath’s bedside as doctors tended to her. The family members say in the lawsuit that at one point, one nurse gave them a suction device to clear blood from McMath and another nurse told them not to suction blood.
During effort to stabilize her, one doctor uttered an expletive and said “Her heart stopped,” according to the lawsuit. For 30 minutes, medical staff worked to get her heart beating again, the suit states.
Although McMath was declared brain dead after doctors at the hospital said her brain showed “no cerebral activity” and a death certificate was issued, the family attorney, Christopher Dolan, has provided NJ Advance Media with signed declarations from four doctors stating that McMath isn’t brain dead.
Eventually, McMath’s family obtained a restraining order preventing the hospital from terminating her life support and she was transported to New Jersey, which accommodates patients declared brain dead who belong to a religion that does not accept the diagnosis as a final verdict for death.
Dolan has said he plans to file a request with Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, asking him to rescind the death certificate so the family can return to Oakland and receive care for their daughter. If that doesn’t work, he said he would sue the state in an effort to get Jahi home.