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After routine tonsillectomy, 13-year-old girl brain dead

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2013 | Patient Safety

Many things can go wrong in an operating room. Though surgeons are experienced and often tremendously skilled, instances of mistakes – even during common surgeries – can still happen.

A 13-year-old California girl was declared brain-dead after a routine tonsillectomy. According to news reports, the girl had no health problems before the surgery. However, after she woke up from the surgery, she began bleeding from the nose and mouth and quickly experienced cardiac arrest. Her family was blind-sided; they did not know whether this was because of a doctor’s negligence or perhaps the girl had an undiagnosed issue.

The doctors at the hospital told the girl’s parents she was brain-dead and that they were going to take her off-life support. The parents are challenging that decision.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, a tonsillectomy is the third most common surgical procedure done on children in the United States, after ear tubes and circumcision. Tonsillectomy is also on the list of routine surgeries done on adults, but much less regularly.

However, anyone about to go through surgery knows that operations are not without risk. Even though a tonsillectomy is a commonplace procedure, complications could come up. A 2003 German study examined the post-operative complications of more than 14,000 tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy patients in Germany. (An adenoidectomy takes out the patient’s adenoids and is often done alongside a tonsillectomy.) Bleeding happened in about 3 percent of the patients; five wound up needing a blood transfusion.

Another study undertaken in Europe in 2004 that included over 33,000 tonsillectomy patients, determined that approximately 1.3 percent of the patients were not discharged directly after the procedure or came back to the hospital in the 28 days after surgery. Eight patients had to have a blood transfusion. One death was recorded.

Experts note that the statistics are a bit higher for other common surgical procedures and some patients are at a higher risk during routine surgery than others.

Complications, experts say, may be due to doctor error as well. According to a study recently published, medical mistakes kill more than 200,000 people every year in the United States.

Whether it’s elective surgery or an out-patient procedure, patients should know their rights. If a surgical error does happen and results in a death, the survivors of the victim can file a claim for wrongful death. Each state has its own law regarding surgical errors.

Source:, “When routine surgeries go wrong” Jacque Wilson, Dec. 19, 2013



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