A fatal tooth extraction has led to a Minnesota dentist’s suspension, and although more than six months have passed since the patient’s death, it’s still unclear what went wrong during the surgical procedure.
Sydney Galleger, aged 17, underwent a wisdom tooth removal on June 9, 2015, at Edina Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, a medical facility based in Edina, Minnesota.
The person in charge with the extraction was Dr. Paul Tompach, who had been awarded a professional degree in dentistry by the University of Minnesota, and had undertaken a fellowship in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University.
The routine procedure, which is sought by approximately 5 million Americans on a yearly basis, seemed uneventful right until the last moments, when Galleger’s blood pressure soared dramatically, while her heart rate suddenly plunged.
The patient then suffered a cardiac arrest, at which point Tompach immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Noticing that the teenager had started experiencing seizures, without appearing to respond to first aid treatment, doctors alerted 911 dispatchers.
First responders promptly arrived at the scene, transporting the high school junior to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
That’s where the condition of the patient was somewhat stabilized, but convulsions persisted, and eventually, on June 15, the girl’s relatives published an update on the CaringBridge online platform, confirming that Gallager had passed away.
For now, it remains a mystery what caused the Eden Prairie high schooler to die prematurely, after experiencing anoxic encephalopathy (brain damage linked to oxygen deprivation).
Galleger had seemed in perfectly good health, and was actually known for her athletic prowess, being a skilled Alpine skier and a vital member of her school’s swim & dive team.
Autopsy results provided by the Medical Examiner’s Office from Hennepin County in September specify that it may be that the cardiac arrest was partly triggered by anesthetics and other medication administered to the patient during the fatal tooth extraction.
As explained by Diane Galleger, the teenager’s mother, her daughter also suffered from a minor congenital heart defect, and the post-mortem examination detected the presence of a viral infection affecting the brain, as well.
However, none of these risk factors were considered to have been significant enough in order to impede the heart from contracting and pumping blood throughout the body, as before.
The most likely explanation is that drugs administered during the surgical procedure interfered with Gallager’s normal body functions, throwing them into disarray, but it will never be possible to prove this theory more conclusively.
Meanwhile, it appears that irregularities which occurred during the fatal tooth extraction were identified, following an extensive investigation conducted by local authorities.
More precisely, it is alleged that Tompach didn’t follow all the guidelines that should be respected during a wisdom tooth removal, and fell short of providing all the emergency assistance that his patient required after suffering post-surgery complications.
In addition, the Minnesota dentist allowed his colleagues (a student involved in an internship program, and two dental assistants, one of whom had been unlicensed) to carry out tasks that they hadn’t been sufficiently qualified to perform.
In the absence of certification from the Dental Assisting National Board, medical personnel shouldn’t be allowed to set up or discontinue intravenous lines (commonly known as drips), to offer medication to patients requiring anesthesia, or to supervise them afterwards.
And yet, according to Bridgett Anderson, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, it is believed that in this case an unlicensed dental assistant was left in charge with such vital assignments after all.
As a result, on January 29, it was decided that Tompach’s dental license would have to be suspended at least on a temporary basis, due to the surgeon’s involvement in the fatal tooth extraction.
This way, health officials are hoping to other patients who would’ve wanted to seek medical treatment from the dentist employed by the Edina Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery will be kept safe from harm.
A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, February 25, when Dr. Tompach will have to face the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, in order to discuss more thoroughly the events that led to Gallager’s untimely demise.
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