Lawyers question Olenick's health prior to surgery death

The medical history of a 17-year-old Marriotts Ridge High School junior who died last year following routine wisdom teeth surgery is now being questioned by lawyers for the dental practitioners involved in the surgery, who are being sued by the girl's parents for malpractice.

Jennifer "Jenny" Michelle Olenick, who died April 6, 2011 after losing oxygen and suffering a severe brain injury as a result of the surgical complications, was said to be a "healthy teenager with no significant medical history" in the autopsy report conducted by a state medical examiner following her death.

Her parents, Cathy Garger and John Olenick, filed a civil lawsuit in Howard County Circuit Court in November claiming Dr. Krista Isaacs, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Domenick Coletti, the oral surgeon, and three dental practices associated with the doctors were negligent in their care of Olenick. The suit alleges they failed to resuscitate her after her heart rate dropped and she began losing oxygen during the surgery.

But in court documents filed in recent months, attorneys for the dental practitioners said they believe Olenick may have had undisclosed, pre-existing mental and physical health conditions that contributed to or caused her death. Thos conditions, the attorneys argue, included stress, anxiety and heart disease.

To investigate those beliefs, the defense attorneys have subpoenaed medical records from doctors who had previously treated Olenick, dating back to her early childhood, according to the parents' attorney. Also subpoenaed are documents from Marriotts Ridge High School relating to her mental, physical and behavioral health and to any medications she was known to be taking.

Olenick's parents, in turn, have tried to block some of those records from being released, saying the "mental and behavioral health records" are "irrelevant and immaterial" to the case.

What Olenick "may have discussed with a behavioral health care provider as a teenager" is not relevant to the question of whether Coletti and Isaacs were negligent in their care of Olenick, wrote James Cardea, an attorney for the parents, in a response to the court opposing the subpoena requests.

What may have been known of Olenick's mental or behavioral "issues" by officials at Marriotts Ridge is also irrelevant to the facts of the case, Cardea wrote in a separate response to the court.

Due to the "sensitive nature" of the records and their "irrelevance" to the litigation, the subpoenas should be quashed to protect Olenick and her estate from "annoyance and embarrassment," Cardea wrote.

Hearing scheduled

But Coletti's attorneys, Scott Krause and Stephen Cornelius, disagreed, and wrote there is "no justifiable basis to shield the requested records."

Anxiety can "impact the metabolic process and/or cause rare heart conditions," and preliminary discovery of details relating to Olenick's medical background suggest she may have suffered from cardiomyopathy, or chronic disease of the heart muscle, Krause and Cornelius wrote.

"It is axiomatic that statements made by Ms. Olenick to any of these health care providers regarding matters relating to her mental health may have a direct correlation to her physical health," they wrote. "Furthermore, in discussing her mental health issues, Ms. Olenick may have disclosed information regarding her physical health."

An expert witness assessment filed in the case by Coletti's attorneys stated that Coletti had scheduled Olenick's surgery in a center where a qualified medical anesthesiologist could perform the anesthesia specifically because of "parental concerns regarding (Olenick's) anxiety issues."

The assessment also said Coletti had obtained a "pre-operative evaluation" of Olenick from her primary care physician, Dr. Zhanna Kalikhman, that cleared Olenick for the surgery and anesthesia.

Judge Louis A. Becker, in response to the battling motions regarding the medical records, has scheduled a hearing to listen to arguments from both sides about the records.

The hearing, scheduled for May 21, will specifically pertain to requested records from Marriotts Ridge and from Dr. Eugenie "Jane" Connall, a Columbia-based psychologist who is president of the Mental Health Association in Howard County and whose website says she treats anxiety and depression, among other conditions.

Becker ordered those records be brought to the hearing, and reserved his right to review them in private before deciding which, if any, to release.

Few medical details

Exactly what the records will indicate in Olenick's medical history could not be determined.

The only public records that speak to that history today focus on her health starting after the complications during the surgery, including the autopsy report on Olenick's body after her death.

That report said Olenick was healthy and well-nourished, and found no evidence of a "physical disease process" like cardiomyopathy having occurred, according to David Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner.

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.

An autopsy report would also not necessarily identify mental health issues like anxiety, which there are rarely physical signs of, Fowler said.

The autopsy report's determination that Olenick was a "healthy teenager with no significant medical history" would have been the result of pairing the physical evidence provided by the autopsy itself with any medical records or information provided directly by Olenick's family, Fowler said.

A settlement conference in the case is scheduled for Dec. 12, during which attorneys for both sides will have the opportunity to discuss a possible settlement prior to any trial.

If no settlement is reached, a civil jury trial is scheduled to begin May 6, 2013.

Garger, Olenick's mother, has previously stated that she hopes the case will bring attention to dental-related deaths, but she could not be reached for comment for this story.

One of her lawyers, Jonathan Schochor, said Garger's desire to raise awareness to the case remains intact, but would not affect whether or not the case is settled prior to trial, noting that the case has already attracted national media attention.

"I believe that the lessons to be learned from a case like this will be learned regardless of whether the case is settled," Schochor said.

Attorneys for Isaacs, Coletti, and the practices named in the lawsuit either declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

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