Experts: Challenges Remain for "Brain Dead" Teen

Jahi McMath faces problems in her “treatment.” 

Posted: 01/07/2014 11:28 AM EST

The family of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after suffering complications from sleep apnea surgery has achieved its goal of moving the girl to a new facility for long-term care, but medical experts say the ventilator she's on will not work indefinitely.

Jahi McMath's uncle said Monday that she is now being cared for at a facility that shares their belief that she still is alive.

While the move ends what had been a very public and tense fight with the hospital, it also brings new challenges: caring for a patient whom three doctors have said is legally dead because, unlike someone in a coma, there is no blood flow or electrical activity in either her cerebrum or the brain stem that controls breathing.

The bodies of brain dead patients kept on ventilators gradually deteriorate, eventually causing blood pressure to plummet and the heart to stop, said Dr. Paul Vespa, director of neurocritical care at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has no role in McMath's care. The process usually takes only days but can sometimes continue for months, medical experts say.

"The bodies are really in an artificial state. It requires a great deal of manipulation in order to keep the circulation going," Vespa said.

Brain-dead people may look like they're sleeping, he added, but it's "an illusion based on advanced medical techniques."

The family and their lawyer would not disclose where the eighth grader was taken on Sunday night after a weekslong battle to prevent Children's Hospital Oakland from removing her from the breathing machine that has kept her heart beating for 28 days.

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(Photo: NORBERT VON DER GROEBEN/LANDOV)

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