Is there still life after brain death?

California mom gets custody of her brain-dead child

A 13-year-old girl in California who has been declared brain dead by her doctors was finally released to his family last January 6, 2014.

Jahi McMath, who underwent tonsil operation, was admitted to Children’s Hospital but after the surgery, she suffered cerebral edema and cardiac arrest.

Jahi’s family members fought to keep her on a ventilator, but a judge has ordered that the machine be turned off. Jahi’s family sought help to move her to another facility for long-term support.

Last January 3, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said Jahi could be transferred with an agreement that the girl’s mother will assume full responsibilities for the consequences.

Accordingly, New Beginnings Community Center, an extended-care facility in New York, Long Island, being run by a woman whose father suffered severe brain trauma in 2007, has offered to care for the child.

It was not clear yet if Jahi’s family accepted the offer. Mail Online website said that the family has raised more than USD 47,000 on to move Jahi, courtesy of over 1,300 people who donated money in nine days.

Dr. Diana Greene-Chandos, an assistant professor of neurological surgery and neurology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said in an article published at Yahoo! News that a person is considered brain dead when he or she no longer has any neurological activity in the brain or brain stem – meaning no electrical impulses are being sent between brain cells.

In other countries, particularly in the United States, if a person has permanently lost all brain activity (brain death) or all breathing and circulatory functions, he is already legally dead.

“However, the heart’s intrinsic electrical system can keep the organ beating for a short time after a person becomes brain-dead — in fact, the heart can even beat outside the body. But without a ventilator to keep blood and oxygen moving, this beating would stop very quickly, usually in less than an hour,” said Dr. Greene-Chandos.

Reuters reported that Jahi’s lungs and heart are only continuing to function because of the ventilator where air is being forced in and out of her body. Without it, Jahi’s breathing and heartbeat would stop. She also lacks brain activity and can’t breathe on her own unlike a person in a coma or a vegetative state.

Today, with ventilators, blood-pressure augmentation and hormones, the body of a brain-dead person could, in theory, be kept functioning for a long time, perhaps indefinitely. But with time, the body of a brain-dead person becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, and the tissue is at high risk for infection,” she added. Mylene C. Orillo with Yahoo! News, Reuters, and Mail Online reports

VitalSigns Issue 59 Vol. 3, January 1-31, 2014