Jahi McMath, girl at center of brain death debate, has died after surgery, family says

Jahi McMath, the California teen whose family fought for her medical care after doctors declared her brain dead in December 2013, has died after she underwent surgery in New Jersey, relatives announced Thursday.

Her mother, Nailah Winkfield, said doctors declared McMath dead from excessive bleeding and liver failure after an operation to treat an intestinal issue. She died on June 22, the Bay Area News Group reported.

Her case had been at the center of a national debate over brain death since the mother refused to remove her daughter from life support. On Dec. 9, 2013, McMath went to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland for a complex nose and throat surgery. Doctors said she had irreversible brain damage from a lack of oxygen and suffered cardiac arrest. A coroner in California signed a death certificate the following month.

McMath’s family gained custody of the girl’s body in 2014 and moved her to New Jersey, the only state in the U.S. with a law that prohibits doctors from removing brain-dead patients from ventilators over families’ religious objections.

"Jahi wasn't brain dead or any kind of dead," Winkfield said. "She was a girl with a brain injury and she deserved to be cared for like any other child who had a brain injury."

Winkfield acknowledged her daughter's dire medical condition but said her Christian beliefs compelled her to fight for care because the girl occasionally showed physical signs of life by twitching her finger or wiggling her toe.

The death certificate in New Jersey listed the cause of death as bleeding.

"I’m devastated about losing my daughter," Winkfield told the Bay Area News Group. "Everything I did revolved around Jahi."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.