A local dentist, who was suspended from administering anaesthetics after a four-year-old girl slipped into a coma after having a reaction to sedation during a dental procedure, has spoken for the first time since the incident.
Global News obtained a letter that was sent to anesthesiologists in the city this week by Dr. William Mather.
“As I am sure you are aware, a little girl visited my office in September for a routine dental procedure requiring general anaesthetic. It is true, as reported by the media, that my patient went to hospital and has suffered brain damage,” the letter said.
“Not an hour goes by that I don’t think about this little girl and what her family must be going through. As a father and grandfather myself, my heart is breaking for her family. This terrible tragedy has shaken me – and my staff – to our very core.”
Mather went on to describe how he was overwhelmed with media attention and at the urging of his lawyer, did not respond to interview requests. He claimed as result, some of the details of the incident are inaccurate or incomplete.
Mather’s letter describes his account of what happened that day.
“In the situation with this little girl, as in all general anaesthetics in my office, the patient was monitored throughout the procedure and recovery. She was hooked up to blood pressure, heart rate, heart rhythm and oxygen monitors. A registered nurse, who has received additional training and certification in pediatric (and adult) advanced cardiac life support, as well as a dental assistant were present to assist me. There was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary in terms of the dental procedures that were performed. The patient’s response to the anaesthetic that was administered was not unusual. The little girl was in recovery under the care of a registered nurse when it was noted that she was in distress, at which point CPR was initiated and paramedics were called.”
On Sept. 7, four-year-old Amber Athwal was rushed to the Stollery Children’s Hospital after the dental visit.
Her father, Raman Athwal, said after a dental exam they were told by a specialist that Amber could have a procedure done that day. The family said the specialist asked if Amber ate breakfast and when told yes, they allege he said it was OK and put her under with a general anaesthetic. They allege Amber suffered from a lack of oxygen during the operation and was rushed to the Edmonton children’s hospital.
Amber was transferred to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital on Oct. 10, while still in a coma. The family was told by doctors that an MRI showed the girl has a brain injury.
On Thursday, Raman Athwal said he is saddened by Mather’s letter and thinks the dentist that treated his daughter is only interested in making money.
“Has he come ever to see Amber, to see how she’s doing?” Athwal questioned. “No. Now he wants to continue his business, he wants to earn more and more money.”
Amber is receiving therapy at the Glenrose during the week, and the family takes her home on the weekends. Her father said she is recovering from a G-tube (gastrostomy) surgery and has been responding to her parents’ voices, though the four-year-old is still not fully conscious.
“She is recognizing our voices and she knows when we are around and when her mom is around.”
“It makes us happy, but on the other side we know she’s not even up to the 10 per cent she was.”
Athwal, who quit his job to be by his daughter’s side, said his family is living off charity. He thinks Mather should have waited to send out his request for anesthesiologists until the Alberta Dental Association and College wrapped up its investigation.
The Athwals had been given a deadline of Nov. 30, 2016, for the resolution of that investigation, but Athwal isn’t convinced he will find out what happened to his daughter.
He said he was told by the college not to expect any findings, but just word whether Mather’s case will be referred to a hearing.
“They simply said they don’t have to,” said a frustrated Athwal. “Is this the system? Is this the Canadian system?”
“We simply want to know what went wrong in the clinic, what went wrong with Amber.”
Mather wrote that this has been a very difficult time for everyone involved. “I am very, very concerned about the health of my patient. My heartfelt thoughts are with this little girl, and I am praying every day for her and her family.”
The Alberta Dental Association and College launched an investigation into Amber’s dental visit and promised to have answers by the end of this month.
Dr. Randall Croutze with the college said Thursday he is still waiting for the report and hopes the investigation will be completed by Nov. 30.
Croutze said they are working with “great vigour” to complete the investigation and the college is trying to “protect the integrity of the investigation.”
He would not commit to making the results public and said it depends what the findings are.
On Oct. 28, the ADA&C decided to “immediately suspend” the practice of allowing one dentist to provide deep sedation or general anesthesia while also providing dental treatment.
It also said Dr. William Mather “has a restriction from administering sedation and/or general anesthetic on any person, until further notice,” although it declined to provide further details pending the completion of its own review.
Mather’s letter said he is seeking a medical anesthesiologist to join his team in order to continue providing dental care.
In the letter, dated Nov. 23, he was looking for a physician to become the medical director of anaesthesia for his office and to administer general anaesthesia for patients. Mather was looking for someone who would be available to provide services eight to 10 days a month. (kb)