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Complications After Tonsillectomy Leave 13-Year-Old Brain Dead

Having tonsils removed is a relatively common childhood experience. When children suffer from chronic infections, inflammation or an obstruction that impedes their ability to breathe or swallow, many doctors recommend a routine tonsillectomy and, perhaps removal of a related set of tissues called adenoids. Tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies are indeed routine — some 400,000 are performed a year, mostly on children and typically on an outpatient basis.

It wasn’t routine for a young teen in Oakland, California. A 13-year-old girl recently had a tonsillectomy at Children’s Hospital Oakland, and was kept overnight. She was supposed to be home, essentially fully recovered, by the next day, but her grandmother noticed she was bleeding heavily from her nose and mouth after the operation. Shortly thereafter, she went into cardiac arrest and was put on a ventilator.

Doctors have told her family that she is now brain dead. She won’t recover. The family is hoping for a miracle.

“The only thing I can do is stay here,” her mother told reporters, adding that she was simply cried-out. “I am not leaving unless she leaves with me because I will not let them pull the plug on my child.”

The family is doing one other thing, however. They are trying to get answers. The hospital released a statement expressing sympathy but merely saying that the case is under review. The family has apparently had at least two meetings with the doctors involved, but the answers they so desperately need have not been forthcoming. On Monday, the family said they were seeking a meeting with hospital directors in the hope that someone in authority can tell them why their girl is dying.

With the case under review, the family doesn’t know whether a surgical error, problems with the anesthesia, poor post-operative care, or some other negligence was responsible — or if no malpractice occurred. It’s hard to believe, however, that these serious complications occurred without at least one error before, during or after the surgery.

Tragically, the family says they’re now feeling pressured to remove the stricken girl from life support. “The family wants to keep her on as long as possible… we believe in miracles and we believe a miracle will happen,” her mother said. “I refuse to bury my daughter.”

This family deserves answers, and anyone whose negligence caused this horror should be held fully responsible.