Home Health Beat: The sad, sad case of the tonsillectomy gone wrong

Health Beat: The sad, sad case of the tonsillectomy gone wrong


What seemed to be a routine tonsillectomy to try to cure a sleep apnea disorder has an Oakland, Calif., teen on life support, a hospital fighting in court to be able to pull the plug, and her family fighting back trying to keep her alive.

healthcareIs it really that hard to figure out where to come down on this? More on that in a moment.

First, to the details. Jahi McMath, 13, has been declared legally brain dead as a result of complications following the surgery. A state judge has ruled that Children’s Hospital Oakland can remove her from the ventilator keeping her body functioning, but also gave her family until Monday, Dec. 30, to file an appeal.

A hospital doctor and a court-appointed doctor have both concluded that McMath is brain dead, and the judge said in his ruling that he had no option under the law to prevent the hospital from removing the girl from life support.

“I wish I could fix it, but I can’t,” Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said.

And then there’s this from hospital attorney Doug Strauss: “Our sincere hope is that the family finds peace and can come to grips with the judge’s decision.”

McMath reportedly woke up from the Dec. 9 surgery and asked for a popsicle before she began to choke up blood a half-hour later and went into cardiac arrest.

Now to the where should we come down on this: how about on the side of life? There may be at best an infinitesimally small chance that the girl will be able to pull through this, but isn’t it worth it to see if there is that chance?

Something doesn’t feel right here, and it’s not just whatever mistake led to Jahi McMath being on a ventilator following a routine tonsillectomy. It feels like the hospital, already on the hook for millions in a tort action due to the botched surgery, is trying to avoid having to shell out millions more in the event that the family decides to keep her alive via life support ad infinitum.

This doesn’t just not feel right. It doesn’t smell right. The hospital’s attorney callously wishes for the family to be able to come to grips with the judge’s decision. How about the people in charge of the hospital coming to grips with what their mission is?

(Hint: we’re not talking about quarterly earnings reports.)

Column by Chris Graham



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