It’s a nightmare that doesn’t end for the family of 24-year-old Marek Lapinski, who suffered cardiac arrest recently during the removal of two wisdom teeth in a southern California oral surgery clinic. The former college football player had no known health problems prior to the surgery, but died three days later in a hospital intensive care unit.
While the circumstances of Mr. Lapinski’s death are still being investigated, the case highlights a critical issue. Sedation and anesthesia carry risks, no matter how routine the surgery may be. Patients are entitled to full disclosure about the qualifications of the personnel who will administer sedation or anesthesia for any procedure, and to a complete discussion of the risks and benefits of the type of anesthesia that will be used. There may be minor operations, but there are no minor anesthetics.
Anesthesia that is given in hospitals is tightly regulated, but office-based surgery and dental clinics are not necessarily held to the same standards. Regulations vary from state to state. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect is that the same physician or dentist who is performing the surgery may be in charge of the anesthesia as well, directing an assistant who has no formal anesthesia certification to give powerful sedative medications.
According to a Fox 5 interview with Mr. Lapinski’s family, he began coughing during the wisdom tooth surgery, and then received propofol, a potent surgical anesthetic medication. Shortly thereafter, the oxygen levels in his blood deteriorated, and he went into cardiac arrest. His medical records were made public by the family, showing that Mr. Lapinski received other sedative medications including fentanyl, midazolam, ketamine, and methohexital in addition to propofol.