81-Year-Old Dentist Defiant After Settling Teen Death Lawsuit

An aged dentist remains defiant after his malpractice insurer paid out $1 million to the parents of the young girl who died after anesthesia in his office. He claims he’s settled nothing, and that he’s demanded an investigation. Yet he agreed to stop giving patients an anesthetic cocktail – including the same drug that killed Michael Jackson – during dental procedures, and then retired at the urging of the Ohio dental board.

“If There Was a Settlement, It Was Not Done by Me”

13-year-old Marissa Kingery never regained consciousness after Dr. Henry Mazarow sedated her with a combination of the anesthetics or sedatives propofol, ketamine, remifentanil and Versed, or midazolam. The drugs, given intravenously, are commonly offered to dental patients to induce a “twilight sleep” for dental procedures.

She died of diffuse hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy due to respiratory arrest caused by complications associated with intravenous sedation during the procedure. Her brain was starved of oxygen. A coroner called the death accidental.

The list of what can go wrong in or during the administration of general anesthesia and the causes of anesthesia errors is too long to print here. A 2009 study published in the journal Anesthesiology suggests as many as 1 in 100,000 persons who receive general anesthesia may die of it. Thanks to the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, the public’s had a look at the extensive precautions that should be taken in administering propofol as an anesthetic. Yet health care providers, like dentists, who are not anesthesiologists are allowed to give these potentially lethal drugs to their patients.

Anesthesia Administration in Uncontrolled Settings a “Huge Risk”

According to former Massachusetts Bar Association president David W. White, the administration of anesthesia in these situations creates a “huge risk” to patients. “Dental clinics, medical spas, doctors’ offices, cosmetic surgery centers, anywhere other than a hospital or a surgical clinic, a patient is at a far greater risk” of injury or death from improper anesthesia administration, White says.

White points out that in these settings:

  • Anesthesia is unlikely to be administered by a board-certified anesthesiologist – that is, by someone other than a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia. Studies show “excess mortality” – more deaths – in cases where an anesthesiologist does not attend. (Albeit a study published by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists finds no significant difference in the outcome.)
  • These settings may not include the proper equipment needed to resuscitate a patient who succumbs to respiratory and cardiac arrest – which is precisely what an expert said was needed to save Michael Jackson’s life.
  • Patients in these settings may not be advised of the proper pre-anesthesia preparation, such as avoiding food and water overnight prior to the procedure.
A Shared Experience

White also notes that even in a hospital setting, anesthesia may be administered by someone other than a doctor. With this, he shares not just his legal, but personal experience.

His son was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital for a minor procedure. White knew enough to ask if a board-certified anesthesiologist would attend the procedure. He was informed that a certified nurse anesthetist would. When he insisted a doctor attend, he was put off with the response that this was not the hospital’s general practice in these cases. Interestingly, when he explained that he was a medical malpractice attorney, he was given the option to have a medical doctor perform the anesthesia.

It’s probably not just a coincidence that a medical malpractice attorney is afforded the option of an anesthesiologist when he objects to the hospital’s custom. It’s easy to imagine the hospital taking a firmer approach to a layperson’s questions. But the fact is most people – including most lawyers – wouldn’t even know to ask. Now you do.

By: Arthur Buono

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