January 08, 2011

Twins Die after Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy

Twin Ohio boys, 3 years old, both died on April 19, 2006 after both kids underwent tonsillectomy & adenoidectomy (T&A) less than 48 hour earlier. Both children were discharged home on the same day of surgery. Read the story here.

On Aug 6, 2010, a malpractice suit was found against the otolaryngologist who performed the surgery, based on the assertion that if the surgeon "kept the children in the hospital overnight - something within his power and a standard practice for children under 3 and for those with a history of breathing trouble - their low oxygen levels could have been detected. Maybe they could have been saved..."

Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (T&A) is a very common surgery done on children for a variety of problems. However, this surgery does carry risks, especially as it relates to airway swelling that almost always occur to some degree after surgery, especially uvular swelling (see picture).

Due to this swelling and risk of airway problems, most (but not all) otolaryngologists are reluctant to perform this surgery on very young children (less than age 2 for adenoids and less than 3 years old for tonsil removal) unless absolutely essential. And when performed on such young children, most (but not all), otolaryngologists will admit into the hospital for overnight observation.

I personally take the extra step of warning parents of very young children undergoing T&A that given this airway risk, it is not unreasonable to not only be admitted overnight after surgery, but to also have the surgery done in a facility that has an ICU just in case airway loss occurs. Otherwise, if done in a community hospital without pediatric ICU capabilities, an airway loss event would require emergency intubation followed by helicopter life-flight transportation to a hospital that does have one.

Certainly by the age of 4 for tonsillectomy and 2 for adenoidectomy, the airway risk for most children becomes negligible and it is safe to discharge home same day of surgery unless other medical problems/concerns are present.

Why at those particular ages is it fine? It is mainly because the child would be much bigger with a correspondingly larger airway that can accomodate the swelling. Furthermore, a child who is older can communicate what they are feeling better which leads to the other risk that is present in very young children.

The other risk involved is over-administration of narcotics which are prescribed after surgery which probably played a role with these twins coupled with their age. When the child is too young to communicate their feelings, any signs of discomfort could be erroneously misinterpreted as pain by the parents. And with suspicion of pain, parents often will give prescription narcotics. If too much is given when the child is not truly in pain, the narcotics can suppress breathing resulting in respiratory arrest.

Due to this risk, narcotics are no longer routinely prescribed after this surgery for kids under 7 years of age. Read more.

Read the full story here.

Watch a video showing how a tonsillectomy is performed here!

Surgical management of obstructive sleep apnea in infants and young toddlers. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009 Jun;140(6):912-6. Epub 2009 Mar 9.

Ambulatory pediatric otolaryngologic procedures in the United States: characteristics and perioperative safety. Laryngoscope. 2010 Apr;120(4):821-5.

Postoperative respiratory complications of adenotonsillectomy for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome in older children: prevalence, risk factors, and impact on clinical outcome. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009 Feb;38(1):49-58.

Avoiding airway obstruction after pediatric adenotonsillectomy. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2009 Jun;73(6):803-6. Epub 2009 Mar 14.
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sadnnes...... this is an outragous and horible tragity

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