A Long Island facility for brain-injured patients has offered to provide 24-hour care to Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead after complications following tonsil surgery.
A state judge extended a deadline Monday that would keep the teen on life support for at least another week, a decision the girl's mother hailed as an answer to her prayers and a sign that she has been right to keep fighting for her daughter, who doctors have said will never recover.
The president of New Beginnings Community Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, a nonprofit outpatient rehabilitation center in Medford, said in a letter Sunday to the mother's attorney and filed with the California court that she would be "willing to open our outpatient facility to provide 24-hour care as an inpatient long-term facility for Jahi with the required and appropriate medical staff that she depends upon."
New Beginnings is dedicated to Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was taken off life support in 2005, sparking a nationwide end-of-life debate. The center opened in April 2011 and is building a long-term care facility in Riverhead that will have 12 licensed beds for people with brain injuries.
New Beginnings president Allyson Scerri and vice president Kate DiMeglio read yesterday from a statement regarding Jahi, but it was unclear whether the facility is equipped to handle her as a patient.
Neither Scerri nor DiMeglio answered questions. Scerri called McMath a "little angel who deserves a chance to be cared for with dignity and respect."
Scerri also said Jahi "has been defined as a deceased person yet she has all the functional attributes of a living person, despite her brain injury."
Arrangements have been made, according to the documents, with an air ambulance company for a doctor to accompany Jahi on a private jet to Long Island for $27,950.
A spokeswoman for the California hospital where Jahi is on life support has said officials would have to understand the capabilities of the Long Island facility before allowing a transfer.
Doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland want to take her off the machines that are keeping her body functioning. Her family wants to continue life support, saying they have hope she will still pull through.
Shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, when a previous ruling allowed doctors to end life support, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered the hospital to keep Jahi on a ventilator until Jan. 7.
Grillo's ruling Monday is the latest twist in a harrowing legal and medical fight that has reignited a heated debate about when life support should end for a severely brain-damaged person.
Monday, the family's lawyer filed suit in federal court requesting that the hospital be compelled to perform a tracheotomy for breathing and to insert a feeding tube -- procedures that would allow Jahi to be transferred to a facility willing to care for her. The hospital has said it's unethical to perform surgery on a person who is legally dead.
Sam Singer, a hospital spokesman, said it would comply with the judge's new order but would oppose any efforts by McMath's family to convince a court that she is still alive and entitled to the same rights as a living person.
"We are hopeful we will be successful so this tragedy can end," Singer said.
Singer also dismissed claims by McMath's relatives that she has shown signs of life, saying any muscle activity was an involuntary muscle reflex.
Doctors at Children's Hospital and an independent pediatric neurologist from Stanford University have concluded McMath is brain dead.
She underwent a tonsillectomy at the hospital Dec. 9 to treat sleep apnea and other issues. After awakening from surgery, her family said, she started bleeding heavily and went into cardiac arrest. She was declared brain dead three days later.In a declaration filed with the federal action by McMath's family, Dr. Paul Byrne, a pediatrician who has questioned the definition of brain death, said he visited McMath's bedside and observed her responding to her grandmother's voice and touch with a squirming movement.
"In my professional opinion, she is not a cadaver," Byrne said. "Her heart beats thousands of times a day."
By Monday night, the family's fundraising website had raised more than $29,000 for a possible transfer.