Medical Malpractice: Death of 17-Year-Old Girl After Tonsillectomy Highlights Dangers of Surgical Procedures

It was to be a routine tonsillectomy, just like most of the more than half-million such procedures done each year in the United States.

But something went very wrong following 17-year-old Mariah Edwards’ surgery on March 20, 2012 at the Abington Surgery Center in Montgomery County, according to a recent story in The Legal Intelligencer.

The teen was apparently left unmonitored in a recovery room following her tonsillectomy, and she went into respiratory distress which was not immediately noticed by the medical staff, the report stated.

Tragically, Mariah Edwards died 15 days after the surgical procedure.

“The case highlighted that there may be more risk for surgical patients in the recovery room than there is during the surgery itself,” her family’s attorney told The Legal Intelligencer.

The teen was given a pain medication after the procedure which depressed her respiratory system, according to the story, and she was left alone for some 20 minutes while medical workers were with another patient. During that time, she “went into respiratory distress and suffered a brain injury that ultimately led to her death,” her attorney told the Intelligencer.

It was later learned “that the monitor placed on Edwards was either not properly set or muted so the nurse could not hear warnings of Edwards’ respiratory distress,” the story reported.

The teen’s family received a $6 million settlement in the medical malpractice case this past December, and several policies and medical procedures were changed at the surgical center to prevent a similar outcome from every happening again, the story reported. Nurses must be present and remain with each patient who comes out of surgery into a recovery room after receiving pain medicines, and patient monitors can no longer be muted by medical staff members, according to the Intelligencer. In addition, “nurses must have clear lines of sight so they can see their patients at all times,” said the report.

Tonsillectomies, in which the tonsils are removed from the back of a patient’s throat, are one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States, with more than 530,000 procedures performed annually in children younger than 15 years, according to a 2011 clinical practice guideline report by the University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio.

And usually, it is a very safe procedure, according to a 2010 post on the ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) Blog, maintained by Fauquier Ear Nose & Throat Consultants of Virginia.

“Medical literature places the mortality rate from tonsillectomy between one in 15,000 and one in 35,000 procedures (0.03% – 0.06%), mostly from anesthesia complications, airway loss, and blood loss,” according to the blog post. That means that about 30 deaths occur per year from the procedure. “As such, tonsillectomy should ONLY be performed if they are truly causing a significant health problem such as obstructive sleep apnea or recurrent tonsillar infections and NOT just because ‘they are big.'”

A similar case occurred in Palm Harbor, Fla., in 2010 when a 12-year-old girl died after a tonsillectomy and her family filed a lawsuit alleging medical mistakes in her treatment.

These tragic cases are somber reminders of the kinds of problems that can arise when patients seek medical treatment in hospitals and other medical facilities and become innocent victims of inadequate or incorrect procedures.

Patients and their families must be vigilant about the medical care they receive so they know what is being done for a patient’s care every step of the way. But at the same time, patients and families aren’t doctors and they can’t know every question to ask.

That’s where skilled, expert, compassionate and thorough legal representation is needed by patients and their families who have been harmed by medical errors or omissions during their treatment. These kinds of cases happen on a regular basis, but they can be fought by legal teams that are prepared to battle for their clients’ rights all along the way to a fair settlement or to a just verdict.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a medical malpractice or related case anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.