Ben Johnson

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‘Unconditional love’: Terri Schiavo Network honors Jahi McMath’s family

Ben Johnson
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PHILADELPHIA, PA, March 28, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Thankfully, few families know what it is like to fight the medical establishment to assure a loved one declared brain dead continues to receive care and treatment. But Jahi McMath's family is one. Terri Schiavo's family is another.

On Thursday night, those two families came together as the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network honored the McMath family at its Second Annual Awards Gala at Philadelphia's Union League.

“We wanted to do something to honor families that really displayed the type of unconditional love that our family had for Terri,” Terri's brother, Bobby Schindler, said. “We saw that in the McMaths and what they're up against, and we just wanted to honor them with this award. We think it's appropriate to show this family how much we support what they're doing.”

Glenn Beck was scheduled to be the keynote speaker but canceled on Thursday due to a family emergency. Bobby presented Jahi's mother, 34-year-old Nailah Winkfield, and stepfather, Marvin Winkfield, with the award.

“The McMath family saw signs of hope, and they should be given the opportunity to provide their daughter hope,” Schindler said. He said the real issue is “who ultimately is going to make decisions for our loved ones? Is it going to be strangers, hospitals, and ethics committees? Or is it family members?”

The ceremony inspired Nailah Winkfield to break her silence for the first time since her ordeal began nearly four months ago, speaking publicly about her daughter's condition, ongoing medical care, and how she still cares for her baby.

"I feel really honored that I'm getting this award for saving my daughter's life, so I figured today would be a good day" to talk, Winkfield said.

Jahi McMath, just 13 years-old, had a tonsillectomy to aid her sleep apnea at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland on December 9. She suffered cardiac arrest and bleeding that put her in a coma. Within days, doctors declared her “brain dead,” and the state of California issued a death certificate.

Winkfield said hospital officials and lawyers “did everything they could to dehumanize my daughter so that people can really envision a corpse on a ventilator." For instance, hospital attorney Douglas Straus flatly told the media that the hospital would not perform “medical procedures on the body of a deceased human being.”

Terri's Network joined the battle in January, saying that Jahi “retains all the functional attributes of a living person, despite her brain injury. This includes a beating heart, circulation and respiration, the ability to metabolize nutrition and more. Jahi is a living human being.”

On January 5, McMath's family won the right to take Jahi to an undisclosed medical facility, where she remains to this day.

At the time, family members worried that McMath's body may have so deteriorated by being denied treatment that recovery could be impossible.

But 34-year-old Nailah Winkfield, said her girl "is getting love, respect, and care.”

“Since being treated, her energy level is up way more,” she said. “She moves around way more than she did when she was in California. She actually can move her arms, legs, turn her head from side to side. She can bend at the waist. She's just way more responsive.”

The child now gets physical therapy three times a week and remains on a feeding tube and ventilator. “She doesn't have any IVs,” her mother said.

“All her vitals are stable,” she said. “She moves all the time.”

“Physically she is healthy and stable. We are waiting for her to wake up," Winkfield said.

The mother has quit her job of 12 years to be by her daughter's side, separated from her other children with their consent. She gives her daughter a manicure and pedicure every Friday, just as she did before the girl went in for surgery. (She painted her nails green for St. Patrick's Day, she said.)

She administers vitamins and fish oil to her daughter personally, saying she is impressed with her daughter's continued growth. When not caring for Jahi, she reads the Bible, as well as studying brain health and function.

The work is at times trying, but she is determined to continue. "I can do it as long as her heart is beating and as long as my heart is beating," Winkfield said.

Despite media coverage – which has featured lopsided coverage of bioethicists like Arthur Caplan, who has declared Jahi is “deceased” – Winkfield said she has not personally encountered anyone who was anything but supportive of her extraordinary efforts to assure her daughter receives continued medical care in the hopes of recovery.

“Everybody I come into contact says, 'I am so proud of you, and I'm so proud of your family for what you're doing for your daughter,'” she said.

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Bobby Schindler said the American people have a lot to learn about the topic, and the media are not featuring a pro-life alternative message on topics like brain death and “persistent vegetative state” (PVS).

“People are confused on this issue, so we need to raise a lot of awareness and educate the public, and that's what this even does, as well,” Schindler said.

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