Toddler dies during a dental procedure after staff member hooked him up to an empty oxygen tank
Zion Gastelum, 2, died four days after a visit to Kool Smiles dental clinic in Yuma on December 16, 2017, after hospital staff hooked him up to a faulty oxygen tank.
A devastated family has alleged that their two-year-old toddler was hooked up to an empty or dysfunctional oxygen tank after a dental procedure and that hospital staff repeatedly muted an alarm used to monitor his pulse, thereby resulting in his death.
According to reports, Zion Gastelum lost his life on December 16, 2017, just four days after a visit to Kool Smiles dental clinic in Yuma, Arizona.
Nonetheless, Zion's family has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Kool Smiles, its staff and associates hired for the surgery on the toddler.
As dentists said the boy needed crowns to fix severe cavities in his teeth, his mother Veronica brought him to Kool Smiles for treatment last December. Upon arrival, little Zion was placed under anesthesia by a Phoenix-based anesthesiologist, under a contract with the clinic, Daily Mail reports.
According to a police report obtained by ABC 15, officers were told by the dentist that the procedure was successful and that it lasted for around 35 minutes.
A Kool Smiles staff member silenced the alarm on the pulse oximeter multiple times, according to the lawsuit. The machine is used to monitor a patient's oxygen saturation and pulse. The suit also states that the oxygen tank Zion was hooked up to was either empty or faulty, and that he was left alone in the recovery room without supervision.
When his mother, Veronica Gastelum, entered the room, she saw a staff member mute her son's monitor alarm multiple times. "Shortly thereafter, the alarm went off an additional three to four times – each time silenced by the Kool Smiles staff member – until the staff member finally removed the monitor from Zion and stated that the device does not work on children," the lawsuit claims.
According to the heartbroken mother, staff began to react to the situation only when her son's chest was not moving and he had no pulse.
Zion was immediately rushed to Phoenix Children's Hospital, where doctors said he had suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen. The toddler would die four days later, on December 20.
While Scott Eldredge, one of the lawyers representing the family, told the outlet: "I haven't seen more tragic facts than this."
Zion was carried back to the operating room by anesthesiologist Aaron Roberts and placed at the foot of a dental chair while another child was intubated at the top, per the lawsuit.
The suit further alleges that part of Kool Smiles' business model is to "maximize the productivity of each clinic by scheduling the child-patients back-to-back," which resulted in an "insufficient amount of time between each child-patient for cleaning of the stations, monitoring of children who are recovering from various forms of anesthesia, and even to allow time for staff members to use the bathroom facilities."
"This is a death that could have been prevented and should have been prevented. Had proper procedures been followed, Zion would be with us today," Eldredge added.
Over the summer, the Arizona Dental Board of Examiners met to discuss the actions of the anesthesiologist after the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the cause of Zion's death as "undetermined".
During the meeting, Roberts' attorney argued to the board that the reason behind Zion's death was "unclear."
The "consent agreement" reached at the end of the meeting was unsatisfactory for Zion's parents, especially after Roberts was simply required to receive continued education and the board placed his anesthesia permit on probation.
"Sometimes, in the right case, with the right set of circumstances, actions are taken that would prevent a death like this again in the future," Eldredge said. "That's what we hope for."
Roberts' attorney said in a statement that the mishap was an "isolated and unfortunate incident" and that his heart went out to Zion's family.
"There are a number of factors unknown to the press or public, but as a matter of policy, we cannot comment on pending or active litigation," the statement read. "We feel that Dr. Roberts will be fully vindicated. He will be pleased to speak with the media, but not until the conclusion of the litigation. We have no further comment."
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Kool Smiles told ABC 15 that its staff continues to extend their "sincere, heartfelt sympathy" to the Gastelum family. "Since 2007, the office has safely and compassionately provided needed dental care to thousands of families. Respectfully, we have no further comment as this matter is pending litigation," the statement read.
In a conversation with ABC 15, Veronica said, "He would give the most amazing hugs and then he would just squeeze you and if you would squeeze him and he was like done. We have his urns on our dresser and we kiss him every day, that's the only way we can and we do so we talk to him and we tell him that we love him. Everybody is just broken and no we're not okay."