Parents of student who died after dental surgery sue for malpractice
Suit filed against anesthesiologist, surgeon; cause of teen's death ruled hypoxia
Cathy Garger sits with her daughter, Jennifer "Jenny" Michelle Olenick, before the Marriotts Ridge High School prom in May 2009. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Garger / December 13, 2011)
The civil suit, which also names three dental practices associated with the doctors, is the latest development in an unusual medical case that shocked the Marriotts Ridge High School community, where Jennifer "Jenny" Michelle Olenick was a smiley, 17-year-old junior involved in choir.
The suit claims that Dr. Krista Michelle Isaacs, the anesthesiologist, and Dr. Domenick Coletti, the oral surgeon, were negligent in their care of Olenick and failed to resuscitate her after her heart rate slowed to a "panic level" of 40 beats per minute and her body began losing oxygen.
The suit claims those failures led to Olenick not having a pulse when emergency responders arrived at Coletti's Columbia office, and that they directly allowed for the "massive and irreversible brain injury" that resulted in her death April 6.
The lawsuit, filed in Howard County Circuit Court, follows an investigation into Olenick's death by the state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which found the central cause of death was hypoxia — a deprivation of oxygen — that occurred while Olenick was anesthetized during the procedure.
Olenick's mother, Cathy Garger, called her daughter's death "needless" and said she hopes to raise awareness of dental-related deaths nationwide.
"I am trying to make people aware that a routine visit to the dentist or an oral surgeon can turn out anything but routine," she said.
According to Dr. David Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner, Olenick was first given a standard dose of anesthesia during the procedure that did not "get her deep enough so she was fully anesthetized."
More anesthesia was then administered by Isaacs, which was also standard procedure, Fowler said in an interview.
At approximately 8:05 a.m., Olenick began to experience bradycardia, or a slowing of her heart rate, according to the lawsuit.
"A little while later, the oxygen saturation in her blood started dropping," Fowler said.
Shortly thereafter, according to the autopsy report, Olenick went into hypoxic arrest. Emergency responders were called and advanced cardiovascular life support protocol was initiated by Isaacs, according to an expert witness assessment attached to the lawsuit.
Once the emergency responders arrived, they were able to regain a pulse within four minutes, the lawsuit states.
Olenick was rushed first to Howard County General Hospital and then to Johns Hopkins Hospital for more specialized care, where she died April 6 after being in a coma, Garger said.
The autopsy found that Olenick suffered acute hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or damage to the brain from a lack of oxygen, and severe brain edema, or swelling of the brain tissue.
According to Robert Stoelting, president of the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation, a patient's breathing and oxygenation should constantly be monitored during operations involving anesthesia through the use of medical equipment, namely a pulse oximeter, and "caregiver observation" of the patient's breathing and airway.
"This monitoring would recognize the development of hypoxia before it caused cardiac arrest," Stoelting wrote in an email.
Stoelting would not comment on Olenick's case specifically.