A teen is left with brain damage after nurses fail to react to her huge loss of blood and change in vital signs; hospital then pressures grieving parents to remove daughter from life support

A family is left shocked and devastated after routine surgery to remove their daughter’s tonsils and adenoids turned into a nightmare, leaving the young girl with what physicians are calling permanent brain damage.

After her surgery on Sunday, 13 year-old Jahi McMath was alert and asking for popsicles.  But soon thereafter, the family noticed an unusual amount of blood and blood clots coming out Jahi’s mouth and nose.  Jahi’s aunt, a registered nurse, noted that the amount of blood being lost was excessive.  When this was pointed out to the nurses, there was absolutely no sense of urgency, and in fact, the staff told the family to use a cup to collect the blood from Jahi’s mouth so it could be measured.  The family was extremely worried, and Jahi’s aunt noticed that her niece’s oxygen level was dangerously low.  Since the medical team failed to react to any of the dangerous signs Jahi was exhibiting, Jahi’s mother screamed for help.  Soon after physicians entered Jahi’s room, her heart stopped beating, and the medical team had to resuscitate the young girl, giving her chest compressions, medication and oxygen, and breathing for her.

Jahi spent Tuesday on a breathing machine (ventilator), and by 2 a.m. Wednesday, physicians said that a CT scan of Jahi’s brain revealed that two-thirds of it was swollen.  Jahi’s brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long.  On Thursday, the hospital declared Jahi brain dead.

Jahi’s family was dumbfounded.  They had no idea their young daughter could go from being a pretty healthy girl to being brain damaged.  After all, removal of tonsils and adenoids is very common.  Physicians told Jahi’s parents that the surgery would help Jahi’s sleep apnea, which was causing Jahi to stop breathing throughout the night.  Sleep apnea is a very serious condition, especially if severe.  People with the condition may be tired throughout the day because they have difficulty getting good sleep.  In addition, they may urinate in bed and have a hard time being alert during the day.  Left untreated, people with sleep apnea can develop heart damage from the fluctuations in oxygen levels that occur throughout the night as the person stops and starts breathing.

But the Jahi’s time with their very sick little girl was interrupted on Thursday when the hospital began pressuring the family to take Jahi off the ventilator, which is currently breathing for her.  The Jahi’s immediately refused this because they want Jahi to have a chance to get better.  Jahi’s mother said she cannot remove life support when her little girl’s heart is beating.

In California, a person is considered dead if that person is labeled “brain dead” by physicians.  Afraid that the hospital would take Jahi off of life support against their wishes, the McMath family took their case to the media and hired a lawyer who has presented the hospital with a cease and desist letter.  The hospital has now backed off from efforts to remove Jahi from the ventilator.

The heartbroken family was dealt another blow by the coroner’s office.  “Technically, we can go where the body lies and we can begin our investigation as to the cause of death,” an official from the coroner’s office stated.  “We have been gracious and we have allowed the parents and the hospital to maintain the child on life support.”

The family’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan, told the media that Jahi is a person, not evidence.

HOSPITAL NEGLIGENCE

This very sad story highlights the importance of close monitoring and prompt action by the medical team.  Many instances of negligence are caused by nurses who fail to pay attention to data on the patient’s monitor or signs that a patient is in trouble.  Indications that a patient is losing blood and in trouble include changes in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation.  In addition, medical personnel should pay close attention to a patient’s level of alertness.  If a patient goes from being alert to suddenly not being alert or being unresponsive, urgent action on the part of the medical team must take place.  After surgery, it is critical for the team to make sure that all monitoring equipment is properly functioning and that the patient is being very closely monitored.   Excessive loss of blood is always a concern; too much blood loss causes a decrease in blood pressure and decrease in flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain, which can cause brain damage.  Failure to closely monitor a patient after surgery and to act quickly when signs of distress or impending distress are evident is negligence.  If this negligence causes permanent injury in the patient, it is medical malpractice.

Jahi’s case also illustrates the importance of informed consent.  The McMath family was shocked that Jahi lost a lot of blood and had to be resuscitated after what they thought was routine surgery.  A patient (or her parents if she is a minor) must be informed of the risks of the specific surgery that is being performed.  In addition, alternatives to the surgery must be given so that an informed decision regarding whether to have the surgery can be made.  It also is crucial that physicians take a thorough history of the patient to help prevent complications and ensure the best outcome.  Failure to obtain informed consent and take a thorough history is negligence.  If negligence causes the patient to have permanent damage, it is medical malpractice.

HELP FOR FAMILIES WHOSE CHILD WAS A VICTIM OF MALPRACTICE

If your child passed away or has a permanent injury and you think negligence was involved, please contact the nationally recognized firm of Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers.  Our award winning attorneys have been handling infant and child malpractice cases for over 2 decades.  We have the skill and expertise to review the complex medical records involved in these cases, and we will fight to obtain the compensation you deserve.  We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and our firm does not receive any payment until we win your case.  Email or call us at 888-419-2229.

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