Any surgery has risks, even those we think of as routine. We often don’t think twice about scheduling some procedures for our children because they are so common they seem to be harmless; and, of course, the vast majority of us would never knowingly subject our children to harm. But even “routine” surgeries can have complications, as these recent news reports show.
A 13-year-old girl in California was declared brain dead three days after undergoing a routine tonsil removal surgery in December 2013. The child’s physician recommended the surgery because she suffered from sleep apnea. During the patient’s recovery, she experienced excessive bleeding and trouble breathing, went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. Whether or not she will remain on life support is a continuing issue before the courts.
Tonsillectomy is the most common surgical procedure in children. More than half a million tonsillectomies are performed in the United States each year. According to The Journal of Family Practice, mortality rates for the operation range from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 35,000. The most common complication is postoperative bleeding, which usually occurs within the first 24 hours after surgery. About 1 in 200 patients is returned to the OR so that bleeding can be controlled. Other complications can include pain, nausea and vomiting. Many tonsillectomies are performed on an outpatient basis, but the Journal recommends that patients with sleep apnea, coagulation disorders, or other underlying diseases, and anyone younger than 4 years of age or living a long distance from the hospital should be admitted for overnight observation.