Girl Predicts Devastating Outcome of Tonsil Surgery

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

(Courtesy: Omari Sealey via CNN)

(Courtesy: Omari Sealey via CNN)

(Courtesy: Omari Sealey via CNN)

(CNN) — Before 13-year-old Jahi McMath went into a surgery meant to improve her quality of life, she had a terrible premonition.

“The worst thing about all of this is that Jahi told my sister, ‘I don’t want to get this surgery, something bad is going to happen. I’m not going to wake up,’ ” Jahi’s uncle Omari Sealey told CNN in a phone interview Monday.

Jahi went in to have her tonsils out. Now, the Oakland, California, girl is brain dead, her family says, and they are fighting to keep her on a ventilator.

She suffered from pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, which caused severe snoring, stop-and-go breathing in her sleep, a lack of an attention span and urinating on herself.

“When you have obstructive sleep apnea, there is a cessation of breathing, so you are not getting enough oxygen to the brain. This can affect your energy levels, your attention span; you can grow poorly and have problems with obesity,” said Dr. Lisa Thebner, a pediatrician whom CNN consulted for this story.

Jahi’s mother, Nailah, and stepfather, Marvin Winkfield, had a sleep study done on Jahi and got two medical opinions on her case. Both times, doctors recommended a tonsillectomy to improve her condition.

“They said that she would have more energy, focus more, lose weight and the urinating would stop,” Sealey said.

On the morning of Monday, December 9, Nailah and her mother, Sandy Chatman, took Jahi to Oakland Children’s Hospital. Chatman, Jahi’s grandmother, is a nurse in Kaiser Oakland’s Surgery Department with more than 30 years of experience in the medical field. On that day, she took an active role in watching her granddaughter’s progress.

“After the surgery, she (Jahi) was fine. She went into the recovery room. She was alert and talking, and she was asking for a Popsicle because she said her throat hurt. As part of the procedure, she was meant to spend the night in ICU,” Sealey said. “When she got moved to ICU, there was a 30-minute wait until any family member could go see her. Upon entry, they saw that there was way too much blood.”

“She lost four pints of blood. She had to have four blood transfusions. She had two liters of blood pumped out of her lungs, not including what was in her stomach,” Sealey said. “There was an enormous amount of blood, and we kept asking, ‘Is this normal?’ Some nurses said I don’t know and some said yes. There was a lot of uncertainty and a lack of urgency.”

Thebner says complications can arise during a tonsillectomy because the affected area has a lot of blood vessels.

“Anytime you go into surgery, it is unusual to have these complications, but they are real despite the fact that they are low risk,” she said. “This was a highly unusual complication.”

Back in the intensive care unit, Jahi quickly took a turn for the worse.

Sealey said that when Chatman noticed that her granddaughter’s oxygen levels were dangerously low, she called for help.

Jahi went into cardiac arrest. The medical staff did chest compressions in an attempt to revive her and tried different medicines to clot her blood, but nothing seemed to work.

On Tuesday, a CT scan revealed that two-thirds of Jahi’s brain was swollen.

“During the resuscitation, she lost a lot of oxygen to the brain, and now she was brain damaged. They (doctors) feared that it could progress and get worse, and it did. Now she is 100% brain damaged. Medically dead,” Sealey said.

CNN could not independently confirm the medical facts and timeline provided by Sealey.

Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland spokeswoman Melinda Krigel cited privacy laws when asked about the case.

A statement provided by Krigel and signed by the chief of pediatrics, Dr. David Durand, read: “Jahi’s family has requested that we not share any details of her case with the media. We can say that, as whenever we see a medical or surgical complication, we are reviewing her case very closely. Our hearts go out to her family, and we want to support them during this extremely difficult time.”

A sweet girl

Jahi was an eighth-grade student at E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts.

Her uncle described her as “the sweetest most pure, innocent girl there was.”

“She always smiled,” Sealey said. “She would just smile and giggle. She had a personality everyone wanted to be around. She was your favorite person. She was a big sister and she had a little sister in kindergarten class, and every day, she would drop her off first before going to her classroom.”

When told that his niece was brain dead, he said, the entire family went into “complete devastation.”

“Shocking disbelief. We have never had to deal with a death of anyone close in our family, and we have a big family. I was in complete shock, my heart was racing as I was running down the hallways of the hospital,” Sealey said.

He said that by Thursday, December 12, Jahi was declared medically dead. Additional testing confirmed the tragic news on Friday, December 13.

All along, Jahi’s family has been by her side.

“We pray over her daily. We kiss her. I charge her iPod and make sure it is in her ears every night when I sleep next to her,” Sealey said.

But on Monday, Jahi’s family realized they would be forced to say goodbye.

“On Monday, we had to come to grips that she is legally dead and we do not have the option to say we want her to stay on the ventilator and on life support. The coroner is coming for Jahai,” Sealey said.

Medically dead

An official from the Oakland coroner’s office told CNN that Jahi’s death was reported to the office Thursday.

“Once a death is reported to us, we have a duty and responsibility to immediately proceed to where the body lies, examine the body, make identification, make inquiry into the circumstances, manner, and means of death, and, as circumstances warrant, either order its removal for further investigation or disposition, or release the body to the next of kin,” the official said, quoting California Government Code Section 27491.

Sealey said his family hoped Jahi could be kept on life support, but hospital representatives told them Monday that would not be an option.

According to the coroner official, “in this case, this office has been very gracious. Technically, we can go where the body lies and we can begin our investigation as to the causes of death. We have been gracious and we have allowed the parents and the hospital to maintain the child on life support.”

Krigel, the hospital spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the hospital does “not have a policy re: terminating life support. We work with the family to determine when that will happen. There are instances when the coroner may request termination, but we always work with the family to respect their wishes.”

The official at the coroner’s office said the main concern is giving the family the answers they seek, and in order to do that, time is of the essence.

“The larger issue is that when the body is on a ventilator, the body is healing,” the official said. “If a medical misadventure occurred, and the body is healing and covering up traces of that misadventure, the coroner pathologist has a more difficult time rendering a cause of death.”

“In my opinion, that is the bigger issue we are grappling with here: the balance between giving the parents time to grieve and determining the causes of the child’s death before the body heals.”

“This child is deceased. From a medical standpoint, this child will never recover. There is a careful balance between letting the parties investigate and allowing the parents to grieve,” the official said. “We know the parents want answers, and it is our office that will provide answers if they are available to us. The longer we wait, the less susceptible we are to getting the evidence we need to render a cause of death. Time is not on our side, from a medical investigation standpoint.”

But the family has hope.

“We are fully aware that the longer that we wait, any type of evidence can be lost, but my sister has faith that her baby can wake up more than anything else,” Sealey said. “She believes that against all odds, against what every doctor has said, yes, she believes.”

Sealey confirmed the coroner is scheduled to come for Jahi’s body Tuesday but said his family is prepared to fight.

“We are trying to do what we can, every last little bit of fighting, to keep them from doing this,” he said.


  • dawn Bloomfield

    I say leave the family alone. Miracles has happened I believe in my heart that sweet innocent little girl will wake up. God works is mysterious ways keep her in are prayers. So her body will heal and she will wake up. I couldn’t imagine being in the situation I pray for the parents to have strength to hang on don’t let them pull the plug there is still life in her and God will help if we all pray and pray and pray Miracles do happen!!!!!!! I know I have seen them before. God please bring Jahi back to her family that love and miss her!!! Its not her time dear lord touch her heart and let it come back to life. Amen!!!

  • Jessica

    This family is in my prayers. How tragic and just horrible to see that there could still be hope but to have a coroner saying you have to end her life that it is already over. No let the family be by her side and pray. God answers prayers every day and miracles do happen! Let this child have a chance!

  • Nichole Seni (@nseni)

    Sorry to say but if a person is medically brain dead 100% they will never recover from that.. and I think that is sad that the parents want to keep her alive. WHY? What is the point. She will never think, never speak, never walk, never live a normal life. Why prolong the suffering. Her organs are basically just living in an empty shell. She will never be the same again and there is no chance of someone that far gone being able to recover. It’s not even a question to me that they should just let her go.

    • DeJonna Parker

      Its should be the families decision. You can’t say what they should do if you have not personally been in their shoes. I would not be instantly ready to let my kids go nor should the coroner have final say. He didn’t give birth to this child, love this child, take care of this child or anything. So the parents should decide.

  • Lin

    That is for her family to decide, NOT the coroner! Nicole – not even a question to you? What if this were your daughter? I think you might have a different view if it were to happen to you.

    • Sharyl Patch

      Lin sometimes the family’s reality is scewed because they don’t want to let go. I know how that feels we had to make that decision for my mother who was only 61 when she died. Also if you are on a ventilator to long it is hard to ween off of it you become dependent.

  • Susan Johnson

    I lost one of my sisters to a brain aneurysm in March, 2012 and my brother to a brain aneurysm in March, 2013. It is hard to let your family members go but it was done in both cases. It was traumatic and still haunts me today. We did what was right for our loved ones and those remaining. My heart goes out to this family.

  • none your biz

    Maybe her condition was caused by being over weight… Maybe not…either way this is the hospitals fault

  • vickie

    God be with you now and always, maybe it was time for his angel to come home. Either way it’s so sad to hear of a devastating loss, please keep praying if for nothing else put peace.

  • Brenda Schaub

    My 4 and half year old son was received severe damage from ear tube/adenoid surgery December 28, 1982. The intubating tube was not in properly for 13 minutes and the oxygen was going to his stomach instead of his lungs. He was in a coma. He never recovered because of a horrible medical mistake. He couldn’t walk or talk or hold his head up. He had a gastric feeding tube. But he didn’t smile, laugh and cry. My husband and I took care of him at home for almost 28 years. He was a joy. This family should be able to keep their child alive. Miracles do happen. And no one except God should decide who lives or dies!

  • paul wesolowski


    This is y I only trust my kids going to rainbow babies and children University Hospital…..

  • lys

    THis is horrible and I am praying!! poor family, but paul wesolowski I dont know why you would trust rainbow babies thats where emily’s law came about.. that in itself is such a terrible terrible tragedy from a mistake.

  • Debbie

    My daughter is a miracle baby the docs sent her to a special hospital cause they didn’t think she was going to make it and she almost didn’t leave that family alone and let them believe in faith you don’t know the power our lord has god bless this family and may The Lord guide you to your path you just got to believe

Comments are closed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.