How Could This Teen Be Near Death After a Routine Wisdom Teeth Procedure?

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Sydney Galleger with her parents. (Photo: Sydney Galleger/Facebook)

Last Tuesday, 17-year-old Sydney Galleger, a high school senior in Minnesota, went to get her wisdom teeth removed, a procedure that’s considered low-risk and a rite of passage for many young adults.

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Now, almost a week later, she’s fighting for her life in a Minneapolis hospital after going into cardiac arrest in her doctor’s office. “She is in very critical condition and of course we are praying for a miracle but we also have to face the reality that the prognosis is not good,” Sydney’s mother, Diane Galleger, wrote today on the health journal website CaringBridge.

Since last week, her family has posted updates on CaringBridge about Sydney’s condition; along with media reports that shed some light on the timeline of events that transpired. Toward the end of the procedure, Sydney’s blood pressure suddenly rose and her pulse dropped, and she went into cardiac arrest. Her doctor performed CPR and started her heart again, reported CBS Minnesota

She was then rushed to a hospital by paramedics, stabilized there, and transferred to University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities, according to Fox9.com.

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Since then, Sydney’s condition has taken a turn for the worse, going from stable to critical and with brain swelling and seizures setting in, reports CBS Minnesota. A ventilator is helping her breathe, her family wrote on CaringBridge. 

How did a seemingly healthy teenager suffer life-threatening complications from what’s thought to be a no-big-deal tooth extraction? Without more details, it’s impossible to know. But one possibility is an adverse reaction to the anesthesia given by her doctor.

“Wisdom tooth extraction can be done under local or general anesthesia, and which to go with depends on the complexity of the surgery as well as the comfort level of the oral surgeon and the patient,” Dr. Robert Glickman, professor and chair of NYU Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, tells Yahoo Parenting.

It’s extremely rare, but even a healthy young person under the care of a trained oral surgeon can react badly to the anesthesia. “It happens in one event in a million, but it does happen,” says Glickman.

An undiagnosed health condition could also have been the cause. “A heart issue no one was aware of certainly poses a possibility,” Bill Nelson, president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, tells Yahoo Parenting.

Prior to wisdom tooth surgery, oral surgeons take a detailed medical history, and during the procedure, a patient who is under deep sedation is extensively monitored: blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen level, and other vitals are constantly watched by a member of the surgical team, in case an undiagnosed health issue poses a problem, says Nelson. 

If your teen is having his wisdom teeth extracted, take precautions to make sure he’s getting the best care possible. That means finding a qualified oral or maxillofacial surgeon to do the procedure.

“In many states, a dentist without the right training is not prohibited from doing the surgery, but only an oral or maxillofacial surgeon has the right qualifications and has done anesthesiology residency training,” says Nelson. “Ask questions, like about what kind of monitoring equipment the doctor has.”

Patients also have a responsibility to be honest about their children’s medical history; not being upfront can put his or her health in jeopardy. “Not reporting that a patient takes supplements or drugs can possibly lead to adverse reactions,” says Nelson. For that reason, it might be a good idea to accompany your child to an appointment, to make sure any prescriptions or supplements don’t slip his mind.

And keep in mind that though odds are very low, tragic reactions can occur, like the one that apparently happened to Sydney. “There is no such thing as simple or routine surgery,” says Nelson.

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