Widow calls for changes to dental anesthesia requirements after husband dies from routine procedure

The death of a well respected and greatly loved cardiologist in Wilmington during a routine dental procedure helped spur this movement
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 10:32 AM CST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT/Gray News) – A widow is urging the North Carolina Dental Board to consider making changes to the way sedation dentistry is performed after her husband died after a routine procedure in 2020.

Cardiologist Dr. Henry Patel was put under anesthesia on July 30, 2020, for a dental implant and never regained consciousness.

“I never thought I would go into a dental office and come back a widow. Who has to do that at age 47? But I would never even see him speak or open his eyes again,” Shital Patel told WECT through tears, remembering the shocking outcome of her husband’s dental appointment.

An anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist must be present when patients are put under anesthesia for medical procedures in case something goes wrong, but that safeguard is not in place for dentists or oral surgeons.

Patel believes the lack of a CRNA in the room cost her husband his life.

She was waiting in the lobby and couldn’t understand why a procedure that was supposed to take just 20 or 30 minutes had been taking much longer.

When she went to ask about the delay for the third time, she realized something had gone horribly wrong.

“They are like, ‘We are handling it, we have a crash cart ready, we’ve called 911.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean you’ve called 911? What’s happening?’” Patel recalled.

Investigators from the dental board discovered the oral surgeon tried and failed to place an endotracheal tube and didn’t even attempt CPR.

Paramedics were finally able to regain a pulse, but he was brain dead after having been deprived of oxygen so long.

His family took him off life support after several agonizing days in the hospital.

Patel learned her husband was one of at least four people in North Carolina who have died in the past few years after receiving dental anesthesia.

Henry Patel’s medical partner filed a complaint with the dental board. His friends and family are working to change the way anesthesia is performed in dental offices across the state.

“If you are going to do deep sedation, and we are not saying you shouldn’t do it, all we are saying is have a CRNA or anesthesiologist present,” Patel said. “Because you as an oral surgeon or anybody in the field cannot be paying attention to what you are doing, important work inside a patient’s mouth, and monitoring the numbers, and looking out for vital signs.”

Requiring trained personnel to be present during dental anesthesia would come at a significant cost that would either have to be absorbed by dental providers or passed along to patients.

“Nobody should have to go through what we are going through, and what the other families are going through because it’s preventable,” the widow added.

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