Going to the dentist can be difficult for many small children. It can be even harder for a child with special needs, so many cities have dental offices that specialize in sedation dentistry.
A trip to one such dental office ended in a tragic accident last spring for one family in Vancouver, Washington. The day started out as a routine trip to get caps put on the several teeth of 4-year-old Mykel Curry but ended in the death of the little boy.
Now a doctor in Washington is facing charges from the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission for not monitoring the anesthesia adequately.
Curry visited Must Love Kids Pediatric Dentistry for multiple dental procedures. The office offered sedation work for kids who are not able to get regular dental work done.
This particular office is known for working with kids with special needs. Curry had a developmental delay that made getting services from a well-trained dentist crucial.
When the accident first occurred, the dental office shared that they had completed over 1,900 similar dental sedation appointments without any issues. They have been offering this service for about 3 and a half years.
On March 10, 2017, Curry was brought in to the office for a routine procedure. His family had taken him to this same office before and had no issues with him being put under to get the work done.
At the time of the procedure, the family entrusted the child’s care to Dr. Chester Hu. He was the person responsible for giving Curry the sedation.
A large part of using sedation like this for dental work is monitoring the patient throughout the process. This should include taking the proper steps to track vital signs as they get the dental work done and also come out of sedation.
Dr. Hu was the anesthesiologist on duty. Curry was able to get the dental work done while sedated, but shortly after the work was finished things changed.
Generally, after being sedated, the patient recovers under close monitoring. In this case, it appears that something went wrong in the little boy’s care.
While in the recovery part of the dental office, a staff member noticed that Curry was not breathing. It is not clear why no one at the time saw there was an issue until he was no longer breathing.
As soon as a staff member noticed that Curry was not breathing, paramedics were called to the office. Someone from the staff also started to perform CPR.
The fact that the little boy did not come out of the sedation seemed to take the office staff by surprise. This brought up questions about the level of care in the office and the work of Dr. Hu.
In this case, there may not have been procedures put in place to monitor the child as he woke up after surgery. Dr. Hu is now facing a formal complaint about the lack of care that contributed to the child’s death.
The commission lobbied a new complaint recently tied to the death in March 2017. Dr. Hu has been accused of unprofessional conduct.
According to a report from the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission, Dr. Hu:
“…failed to meet the standard of care by failing to make use of appropriate monitoring equipment” and failed “to have an appropriately credentialed and trained individual assigned to monitor (the patient) continuously until he showed signs of emerging from sedation.”
There was an issue with the care at this particular dental office. The family of Curry was in shock as the routine dental visit turned into an emergency.
As this story first broke, there were multiple reports of issues tied to the dental office using an outside contractor to do sedation. This may explain the gap between the basic standard of care and what occurred in the office that day.
No one expects that something as simple as a dental visit could leave their young child dead. The family thought this was a relatively safe use of sedation.
They are now sharing their story with other parents to get the word out about the possible risks.
Because this case is still under investigation, there have not been many details released about what caused Curry to not come out of sedation. Many point to the fact that adequate monitoring of the child during sedation could have meant him getting help sooner.
The recent complaint against Dr. Hu has not been answered by the dental office. They are expected to reply to the charge and have several weeks to do so.