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Tonsil surgery tragedy: Investigation into brain death, new complication factors

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A tonsil surgery tragedy caused brain death in a 13-year-old girl and left her on life support recently, while the latest reports on this heartrending story reveal that a thorough investigation into new complication factors stemming from a routine tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy might have caused the awful incident. Her sleep apnea is also being examined as a possible issue in what went wrong during the procedure. The child’s family from Oakland, California, is said to be currently arguing with the hospital over whether to keep the young teen on life support. Guardian LV News provides these updates this Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013.

The tonsil surgery tragedy involved Jahi McMath, who was simply undergoing a not-unusual tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy earlier this week when her overnight stay turned into the stuff of nightmares. After waking up from Oakland Children’s Hospital, her mother said that she began spewing up heavy amounts of blood, and would not stop bleeding.

McMath went into surgery to have her tonsils removed as part of treatment to help her with a bad case of sleep apnea, a disorder that causes breathing disruptions during the normal sleep cycle. Yet the corrective tonsillectomy instead left the 13-year-old girl eventually going into cardiac arrest and finally suffering brain death. She remains on life support, but Jahi’s family is saying that the hospital is trying to “rush” them to pull the plug.

The press release shares her mother’s heartbreaking emotions over the tonsil surgery tragedy, and how Oakland hospital is all but forcing her to make a life-altering decision so soon.

“They just have a social worker follow me around all day long asking me ‘do you have any other family that needs to see her?’ like trying to put a rush on it.”

The child’s mother and her grandmother are blaming the hospital for Jahi’s brain death, though an investigation is now underway to find out just what happened in this tragic case. One hospital official noted,

“We will certainly investigate what happened. In any surgery there are risks and there can be unexpected, unanticipated complications.”

Called postoperative mortality, death as a result of surgery (within two weeks of the procedure) can certainly happen, though it is exceedingly rare in a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. At this time, it’s difficult adds the report to determine just what happened in Jahi’s case because she had both surgeries. However, answers are expected to be received pending the investigation and medical examination of the 13-year-old girl. The use of anesthesia is also being examined. Says the National Institutes of Health in a published study on the sleep apnea factor, however, “a preoperative diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea was not associated with increased risk of death or anoxic brain injury.”

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