Trip to dentist leaves 4-year-old girl paralyzed after being put under general anesthetic

We all dread the dentist’s office. At best, we presume we will experience some discomfort – at worst, terrible pain.

But for the Athwal family from Edmonton, Canada – neither of these come close to the horrifying nightmare their young daughter Amber recently had.

On September 2, 4-year-old Amber Athwal was taken to the dentist for a routine check. The dentist found she had some front teeth decay and molar cavities.

“So the doctor recommended her to a specialist because, according to him, this needed to be done under sedation,” Amber’s uncle Amanpreet Singh told CBC

Amber saw a specialist a few weeks later and was indeed put under general anesthetic. During the process, however, the little girl stopped breathing for an undetermined period of time – and she is now left brain damaged. 

Now, Amber’s family is reaching out to the public with strong words of warning.

CBC/Athwal family

“During the operation, Amber had a lack of oxygen to her brain and was rushed to the hospital right away,” Amber’s mom Ash Athwal writes on a GoFundMe page set up to help the Athwal family in this time of distress.

“She has been in the hospital for nearly 4 weeks now (Since Sept. 7) and the MRI shows that Amber has been left with a brain injury. She is still unconsious and not responsive. We are waiting for her to recover,” Ash continues.

“They say she’s going to be disabled for life,” Amber’s uncle Singh told CBC. “She’s still tube-fed, and even though doctors say this might improve, she will still need a tube for the rest of her life because she might not be able to swallow that amount of food on her own. She’ll be in diapers. She’ll be wheelchair-bound.”   

CBC/Athwal family

Amber stopped breathing shortly after she was put under general anesthetic.

“[The dentist] asked if my daughter Amber had anything to eat today and my husband told the specialist that she had breakfast. However, he said it’s OK and carried on.”

In British Columbia, Canada, “all dental procedures” that involve general anesthesia require five qualified professionals: the anesthetist, the operating dentist, the operative assistant, the recovery supervisor and the office assistant.

However, Amber’s family said they were not aware of anyone else in the room when the dentist administered the general anesthetic.

The registrar and CEO of the College of Dental Surgeons of B.C., Jerome Marburg, said incidents like what happened to Amber don’t occur often.

“A tragic story like this is thankfully very rare, but always disturbing for the public, for dental professionals and for us as regulators,” said Marburg.

The incident was reported to the Alberta Dental Association and College and remains under investigation. 

“Select your doctor carefully,” Amber’s uncle Sing urged. “I don’t know whose fault it is. Still, please be aware of what procedure you’re going through. Just do a little bit of investigation beforehand.”

Please share this important albeit tragic story with every family you know- especially someone who may have a dentist appointment scheduled soon. While this kind of incident is rare, it’s crucial to take every precaution – including making sure the dentist office you or a loved one are visiting is rigidly following every procedural step – especially when it comes to general anesthetic.

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