Saturday, January 25, 2014

When People don't Understand Science

I've been meaning to comment on the very sad case of Jahi McMath.  For those who don't know, Jahi was a young lady who was having trouble with sleep apnea.  I'm not her doctor, so I can't be sure of the details of why surgery was deemed necessary.  From her photographs, it looks very much like weight loss would have been a safer, healthier way to help solve her problem.  I suppose I have the benefit of hindsight, knowing the outcome doctors couldn't have foreseen when they recommended surgery.

The surgery included removing Jahi's tonsils, adenoids and uvula.  It's a routine surgery, but definitely has risks, as some of the tissues to be removed are very close to the major arteries of the neck. 

Jahi was one of the very, very unlucky few who have complications following the surgery.  "Jahi underwent surgery Dec. 9 to remove her tonsils, adenoids and uvula at Children's Hospital Oakland. She was declared brain-dead three days later after going into cardiac arrest and suffering extensive hemorrhaging in her brain.  At least three neurologists confirmed Jahi was unable to breathe on her own, had no blood flow to her brain and had no sign of electrical activity."

The family wouldn't believe it, though.  Jahi responded to touch.  For the curious, even a brain-dead person can do that because some response to stimuli is handled by the nerves in the spine.  It can look a lot like the person is still alive, but they aren't.

Let me pause to say I'm not unsympathetic to the family.  My own child isn't much younger than Jahi, and had her tonsils out at age seven to put an end to chronic strep throat infections.  Losing her following that surgery would have been absolutely devastating.  Any parent can imagine the pain Jahi's parents are going through.  None of us wants to experience it.

Unfortunately, keeping Jahi on a ventilator won't really help.  She is brain dead.  Her brain has no blood flow and is very literally decomposing in her head.  The ventilator and feeding tube aren't keeping her alive, but just slowing her body's inevitable decomposition.

As desperately sad as this situation is, there's no benefit to what the family is doing.  They're drawing out their own pain. 

I've debated the benefit of commenting on this story at all, but I do it in the hopes that more people will understand brain death and help teach others so when tragedies do happen, families can choose closure or even to help others rather than prolonging the grieving process.

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