By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The family of a 24-year-old Hilo woman who fell into a coma during a dental procedure in March is suing the oral surgeon who performed it.
The malpractice civil suit was filed Monday in Hilo Circuit Court by Honolulu attorney Rick Fried on behalf of Joseph Tavares Jr. and Diana Pulgados, parents of Kristen Tavares, and names Dr. John Stover and his company Hilo Oral and Facial Surgery as defendants.
The suit seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs.
It claims Stover bungled an operation to extract Kristen Tavares’ wisdom teeth March 17 in Hilo, and Tavares, then 23 and a mother of two, suffered cardiac arrest while under sedation or anesthesia and fell into a coma.
“They want some help financially for their daughter, who’s at Maui Memorial (Medical Center) and still in a coma,” Fried said Wednesday morning. “Then, more importantly, I think they want to make sure the administrative rules are enforced. … An otherwise perfectly healthy young woman should not go into a coma after being given the level of anesthesia needed to remove wisdom teeth.”
Fried said he’s trying to determine if Stover was licensed under new regulations that took effect Jan. 27 to administer intravenous sedation or general anesthesia.
The new rules were put into place after the death of Finley Boyle, a 3-year-old Kailua, Oahu, girl who suffered cardiac arrest and died after oral sedation by Kailua dentist Dr. Lilly Geyer. An autopsy found the drugs Boyle was administered likely caused her death.
Fried also represents Boyle’s parents in a lawsuit against Geyer, who also closed her practice. He called Tavares’ predicament “very much like the Finley Boyle case” and said the toddler was “grossly overdosed with anesthesia.”
“I think when we get into this, we’ll find out that this is the case here,” he said. “… For just moderate (conscious) sedation, which is probably what Stover had done with Kristen, you have to have 60 hours of instruction, supervised management of 20 moderate sedation patients and clinical experience in managing a compromised airway and being able to establish IV access. You must also show documented proficiency in basic and advanced cardiac life support.
“You can avoid getting this written permission if you have somebody who is administering the sedation who is a member of anesthesiology staff of an accredited hospital and if the anesthesiologist remains on the premises of the dental facility until the patient’s fully recovered and discharged.
“In addition, he’s supposed to have a properly equipped facility for the administration of general anesthesia or deep sedation or moderate sedation, staffed with a supervised team of auxiliary personnel capable of handling anesthesia problems and emergencies. Obviously, this didn’t happen.”
Fried noted the 16 complaints against Stover under investigation by the state, up from 12, and said Stover is “apparently an equal opportunity screw-up” as a physician and dentist.
“There’s a bunch of stuff we need to find out, but with his past history, you wonder how he was still practicing and we’ll get into that as we go along here, too,” he said.
Fried said Tavares no longer needs a respirator but is still being fed by tubes.
Asked what constitutes a fair monetary settlement, Fried replied, “There’s really no number that works.”
“I know the parents have pretty well put their lives on hold trying to be with her and care for her and hope for some miracle, but it’s pretty hard – and I know this because it’s all that I do – to put a number on loss of affection as a parent,” he said.
Stover, who had offices in Hilo, Waimea and Kona, has since closed his practice and has reportedly worked out an agreement with the state in which he will voluntarily surrender his medical and dental licenses. He reportedly won’t be able to reapply for licenses in Hawaii for five years.
Arthur Roeca, Stover’s Honolulu attorney, declined Wednesday to comment on the lawsuit.
Email John Burnett at [email protected].