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Brain-dead California girl arrives at extended care facility

The outside of Children's Hospital and Research Center is seen in Oakland, California, December 30, 2013. The family of 13-year-old Jahi McM
The outside of Children's Hospital and Research Center is seen in Oakland, California, December 30, 2013. The family of 13-year-old Jahi McM

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California girl declared brain dead following complications from a tonsillectomy, whose case has prompted debate over when to withdraw life support, has arrived at an undisclosed care facility with her mother, a family spokesman said on Monday.

Jahi McMath, 13, was taken by a private ambulance on Sunday night from Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland to a long-term care facility where she will be given a tracheostomy and feeding tube, uncle Omari Sealey said.

"The goal is for them (the new center) is to give her treatment to help her get to full recovery," Sealey said.

McMath was admitted to Children's Hospital on December 9 to have her tonsils removed as well as other procedures performed in an effort to treat her sleep apnea. After the surgery, the girl began to bleed profusely, went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain swelling.

The hospital declared her brain dead three days later and made plans to remove her from a ventilator. But her family has fought in state and federal court to keep her on life support. A restraining order barring the hospital from removing that life support had been set to expire on Tuesday.

The case has drawn international attention, as well as support from relatives of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who died in 2005 after a 15-year battle over whether to keep her body alive in a persistent vegetative state.

An extended-care facility on New York's Long Island, the New Beginnings Community Center, has offered to care for the child. But it was not immediately clear if McMath's family had accepted the offer.

Sealey said on Monday that the Long Island facility was among dozens willing to admit his niece, but declined to disclose what facility had taken her in, saying the family had received threats of violence since McMath's story became public.

Physicians at the new care center planned to perform surgeries on the girl, including a tracheostomy and gastrostomy for breathing and feeding, Sealey said.

McMath has not been fed since the day before she was admitted to Children's Hospital four weeks ago, and nutrients would be needed for any rehabilitation, he added.

McMath's lungs are continuing to function because of air being forced in and out by a ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease, according to medical experts. Unlike a person in a coma, McMath lacks brain activity that would allow her to breathe on her own, doctors have said.

Sealey said initial doctors' exams of McMath since her transfer showed some possible brain activity. "They feel like she is not completely gone," he said.

Children's Hospital has said that McMath's brain death was tragic but irreversible. Hospital officials have said the facility and state health officials are investigating how a routine operation led to McMath's condition.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jonathan Oatis)

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