Tonsil surgery complications cited in child’s death

Tonsil surgery complications cited in child’s death

Until the 1960s, tonsillectomy was the most common kind of surgery in the United States, done largely to treat chronic throat infections, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

However, in ensuing years, the number of tonsillectomy surgeries performed dropped by half after experts determined these procedures had limited success in treating infections. In the past three decades, tonsillectomies have resurged as a treatment for sleep apnea- a breathing disorder.

Today, more than ever, the conversation is buzzing once again around the use of the procedure, after a 13-year-old California girl, who underwent a routine tonsil surgery for sleep apnea was left brain dead and on life support. Her plight has sparked an energized dialogue among the medical community and has parents wondering if this surgery is safe or if the incident involving Jahi McMath represents merely a freak accident?

According to Dr. Jonathan Sherman, pediatric otolaryngologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., serious complications after a tonsillectomy are very rare, but they do occur.

“In this country, about a dozen people die after tonsillectomy every year. While this number may seem impressive, it represents only a very small fraction of all patients undergoing a very common surgery – about 1 in 50,000,” says Dr. Sherman.

Dr. Jonathan Sherman

Dr. Jonathan Sherman

In recent reports, parents were unaware that bleeding was a major side effect of tonsillectomy surgery. CNN has reported that, not long after something went terribly wrong, in an intensive care unit, the girl began bleeding profusely.

“Minor bleeding is one of the most common complications in tonsillectomies, occurring in about 2 percent of patients,” Dr. Sherman says. “This complication is impossible to predict in most cases, and, because it sometimes requires treatment, good communication between the surgeon and the patient/patient’s family is essential to providing the safest possible care.”

In almost all cases, bleeding is either self-limited or can be corrected with a simple procedure, he says.

“It’s very important to keep in perspective that, while tonsillectomy has risks like all surgeries, this procedure greatly improves the long-term health and quality of life of children who need it. We now know that tonsillectomy improves the heart health, lung health, and ability to learn and grow in children with obstructive sleep apnea,” continued Dr. Sherman.  “The risk conferred to a child by deciding to not have this surgery when it is needed is far greater than the risk of a rare, catastrophic post-operative event.”

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.