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Anesthesia Error: 18-Year-Old Suffers Brain Injury Due to Anesthesia Error in Elective Procedure

January 20, 2020

During surgery, the brain requires a continual flow of oxygen-rich blood to ensure brain cells remain alive. After anesthesia is administered to a patient, it is the anesthesiologist’s responsibility to monitor his or her vital signs through the duration of the procedure. Not giving full attention to the status of a patient can result in a failure to recognize the onset of complications or any other developments that place a patient in danger. Negligence on the part of the anesthesiologist can cause a patient to not receive adequate oxygenated blood flow to the brain, resulting in catastrophic injury. That is precisely what happened to 18-year-old, recent high school graduate Emmalyn Nguyen.  In August 2019, Emmalyn went in for a planned, elective breast-enhancement surgery, but never woke up. A recent lawsuit filed in Arapahoe County Court in Colorado alleges the doctor and nurse who administered anesthesia to the young woman left her “unobserved” for 15 minutes. Unmonitored, Emmalyn suffered a cardiac arrest and although she was resuscitated, the brain suffered too much damage.  Emmalyn is now in a permanent semi-conscious state and requires round-the-clock care, including a permanent feeding tube.

What Can We Learn from Emmalyn’s Tragic Outcome?

Even Minor Procedures Can Have Major Risks

No medical procedure is risk free.  It is important to not rush into a medical procedure.  Be screened by your treating physicians, such as cardiologists or internists who know you before deciding to undergo a medical procedure.  A large part of the risk of minor medical procedures stems from the potential of sedation-related complications, such as respiratory distress or cardiac complications.  If given too much, or not monitored properly, sedatives used in minor medical procedures can be catastrophic or even deadly.  For any patient undergoing a medical procedure, particularly if anesthesia, opioids, or sedatives are involved, it’s critical to know as much about the patient’s medical history as possible, including medical conditions, previous surgeries, and what prescription and over-the-counter medications they may take. These factors can affect how the patient’s body will respond to drugs used in common medical procedures.  Before undergoing a minor medical procedure, ask questions to fully understand the procedure you are to undergo, the risks, and carefully weigh risk vs. reward.

Importance of Monitoring

We would like to believe that all patients would be carefully monitored during a routine medical procedure that involved sedation that can lead to respiratory distress or cardiac complications.  It is alleged that Emmalyn was not carefully monitored during her elective breast augmentation surgery that resulted in cardiac arrest and her catastrophic brain injury.

Failure to monitor accounts for several medical injuries.  Failure to monitor can apply to physiological monitoring, such as monitoring of vital signs during a medical procedure.   Like Emmalyn, a common medical error is lack of proper surgical monitoring, i.e., a patient is not monitored carefully or properly during a medical procedure.  Continuous electronic monitoring of oxygenation (i.e., the adequacy of oxygen in the blood) with pulse oximetry and ventilation (i.e., adequacy of breathing) with capnography, combined with traditional nursing assessment, greatly reduces the likelihood of unrecognized, life-threatening complications from sedation, opioids, or anesthesia.

Who is Responsible for Anesthesia Error?

Unfortunately, some physicians are not careful during surgical procedures. They get careless, complacent, or cut corners on patient safety, forgetting the real dangers or cramming more surgeries into a day to maximize profits. Reckless physician conduct injures patients.

All doctors and medical professionals on duty during your surgical procedure must provide a standard of care to ensure you are stable through the surgery. If an error in anesthesia occurs, accountability almost always falls on the anesthesiologists tasked with monitoring your health. Most errors in anesthesia are preventable – and if one did not take the proper precautions, they may have acted in negligence.

Before a surgery, talk to your physician and anesthesiologist about your concerns. Insist the physician take precautions to prevent error. Demanding safety before surgery may just save your life.

At Buchanan Firm, our combined legal-medical team has decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases, including cases involving surgical errors. We have medical professionals on staff to talk with you and immediately review your claim. Our team quickly and efficiently assesses the medical facts and takes immediate action to protect your legal rights.