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Malpractice lawsuit follows girl's death during oral surgery

A Maryland teenager's death as a result of "routine" oral surgery has led her family to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeons.

The 17-year-old girl underwent surgery to have her wisdom teeth pulled, a procedure her parents weren't worried about when they dropped her off at the clinic in March 2011. But they received an emergency call 15 minutes later, and soon they were at a hospital, taking in the details of the condition that caused their daughter to die 10 days later.

The surgeons explained that the girl, who was otherwise healthy, had suffered from hypoxia, or a deprivation of oxygen so severe that her brain was left severely damaged. It happened as her heart rate slowed to a dangerous degree while under anesthesia. The autopsy ruled her death an accident.

Such deaths are rare during oral surgery, though not entirely unheard of. Despite its usage in millions of operations every year, anesthesia carries risks that patients often don't consider. People scheduled for surgery or their family members should never hesitate to ask questions about the anesthesia and the overall procedure. For instance, find out if someone other than the surgeon will be monitoring the patient's heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. You may also want to ask about the monitoring equipment and what the plan is in the event something goes wrong.

Although the girl's oral surgeon said he was "deeply saddened" by her death and that everyone involved in her case worked hard to offer the best possible medical care, her parents weren't satisfied. They've filed a lawsuit against both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. Her mother said she hopes the lawsuit and her daughter's story sends a message about the risks of anesthesia and the importance of diligent monitoring during surgery, whether it's considered routine or not.

Source: Today, "Teen dies after 'routine' wisdom tooth surgery," Linda Carroll, April 6, 2012

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