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Blue Island teen dies after root canal

By Lolly Bowean

Tribune reporter

8:09 PM EST, February 11, 2011

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A 17-year-old boy from Blue Island died of an infection after he underwent root canal surgery, and his family says they believe the procedure may have been unnecessary.

Christopher Schutzius died of sepsis, a toxic infection, following the root canal, the Cook County medical examiner's office ruled following an autopsy Thursday. Medical experts say it is rare for serious complications to occur following a root canal, and usually only happen if an infection is present before the procedure.

Schutzius was a senior at Eisenhower High School and was to graduate in May. 

Schutzius was pronounced dead just after 11 a.m. Wednesday at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, more than a week after undergoing the dental procedure. The teen's foster family says he went to an office of a national dental chain in Blue Island on Feb. 1 to have a filling replaced.

Schutzius lost a filling while eating a piece of caramel candy, according to two foster siblings, Candace Garcia, 20, and Richard Garcia, 23. He went by himself to the dental office, Dental Dreams, to have the filling replace and ended up having a root canal that his family believes was unnecessary.

The family said Dental Dreams is a popular facility in Blue Island because it takes public aid and serves many low-income families.

"They seen he was by himself and he didn't have a parent with him and took advantage." Richard Garcia said. "They decided ... 'we'll give him a root canal instead of a filling ..."

Throughout the week Schutzius applied over-the-counter pain medication to his aching mouth and complained of not feeling well, Candace Garcia said.

On Tuesday, Schutzius was lying still on the couch and didn't seem like himself. The family called an ambulance and he was hospitalized. He died the next day.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody," Candace Garcia said.

Richard Garcia agreed. "I hope this never happens to anyone else."

Sameera Hussain, the clinic's owner read a prepared statement but refused to answer questions.

"Dental Dreams provides affordable dental care to the Blue Island community. We learned today through media reports that a patient who was recently treated at our clinic has later passed away," Hussain said inside the clinic where nearly a dozen people were waiting to be examined.

"We were shocked to hear this news and express our deepest condolences to the family. We are conducting a thorough review of his treatment and we'll provide furthur details as they become available to us."

Christopher S. Wenckus, head of the endodontics department at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Dentistry, said deaths or serious complications following root canals are “horribly uncommon.”

“In all the years that I’ve done this, I have not personally seen anything where there’s been a direct link between a root canal being done and a patient dying,” Wenckus said. “These things can happen, but they’re extremely rare.”

The fact that Schutzius’ filling fell out indicates that the tooth was probably already decaying because of infection and that a root canal was likely necessary, said Wenckus and Clara Spatafore, president of the American Association of Endodontists.

Both said antibiotics usually are not given to patients after a root canal unless the patient has other medical problems or develops severe swelling or pain.

Wenckus said he usually tells patients to take ibuprofen for a few days after a root canal.

The boy's foster mother, Laura Serna, said she was too distraught to talk to reporters and had been advised by officials with the Department of Children and Family Services not to speak with reporters. Christopher Schutzius has been living with them for about three years.

Schutzius was a senior at Eisenhower High School and was preparing to graduate in May, his foster family said. He lived with the Serna/Garcia family along with his younger brother and sister. The 11- and 13-year old biological siblings were at the modest Blue Island house on Friday but said they didn't want to discuss their brother's sudden death.

"Chris was a wonderful kid," Candace Garcia said. "If you were feeling down he'd do whatever he could to make you laugh. He was our brother and we loved him."

Chris wanted to finish school and study to become an auto mechanic, Candace Garcia said. He and his siblings left their parents home years ago and were being raised by an aunt up until 3 years ago. Then they went to live with Serna, a close family friend who was also the children's Godmother.

Schutzius was placed in foster care in 2008, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said.

The state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation investigates any medical procedure that results in an “adverse outcome,” said agency spokeswoman Susan Hofer, who said she could not discuss individual investigations.

Staff reporters Ryan Haggerty and Liam Ford contributed

lbowean@tribune.com