OAKLAND (KPIX) - For 5 years, the family of Jahi McMath insisted she was alive when most of the world was saying she was gone. Eleven days ago that fight ended, at least, medically, when her heart stopped.
McMath was 13-years-old when she was declared brain dead by doctors at Oakland Children's Hospital in 2013, after an operation to remove her tonsils went bad. But her family put up a fight and eventually moved her to New Jersey where she existed on a ventilator, and according to her mother, could move her feet and hands on request.
"My daughter showed me what I knew from the start. She was always alive," said her mom, Nailah Winkfield. "I really feel bad that she had to die 2,558 miles away from all her family and friends who loved her."
Winkfield says she is thankful to New Jersey for allowing her to contest the death declaration on religious grounds and even providing Medicare coverage for Jahi's care. And though she had to sell her home and is now broke, Nailah says it was worth it to watch her daughter change over the years.
"She grew taller and her features started to change and she went through puberty and everything. And I know for sure, dead people don't do that," she said.
Christopher Dolan, the family's attorney says the hospital wanted her declared dead because the liability is much lower than for someone who is still alive.
"They knew they would benefit if Jahi McMath died because then they don't have to pay for her medical care that she deserved," said Dolan.
Now, Alameda County is refusing to recognize New Jersey's death certificate, so the Coroner has not issued a burial permit. The family does not even know if they will be able to bury McMath on Friday as planned. In a grim irony, they are now fighting to prove she is dead.
"She's embalmed," her mom told reporters. "What are you looking for? I don't understand, let her go in peace…in dignity."
McMath's family was often criticized for their struggle but they say they're proud of the young girl who may have changed what it even means to be "alive."
The family is suing Oakland Children's Hospital for wrongful death.
In wrongful death cases, California limits the liability to $250,000. There is no such limit if the injured patient is still alive.
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