More than two months after a four-year-old Edmonton girl slipped into a coma while having dental work done, the dentist who performed the procedure has broken his silence.
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.
This week, her father said Amber is responding a bit in her recovery and therapy at the Glenrose. He said she is moving her legs and her tongue movement is improving. She recently had surgery to put in a feeding tube (gastrostomy tube surgery.)
Three weeks ago Athwal said she had started opening her eyes, but didn’t recognize her parents and cried a lot.
Dr. 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. Athwal said he has not heard anything about how that investigation is going.
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.