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Mother wants child's ICU visit investigated alongside tonsil surgery deaths at Hamilton hospital

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An Ontario mother is sharing her story after she says her daughter almost died following a tonsillectomy at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

She says the incident occurred around the same time two other children died after undergoing similar procedures at the same hospital in Hamilton, Ont. Those deaths are now part of an external investigation, and all scheduled tonsil and adenoid surgeries are on hold until the review is complete. She hopes her daughter’s case is also investigated.

"Most tonsillectomies don't have complications, and to find out two kids died," said Sarah List, from Dundas, Ont. "It's just so shocking."

List’s daughter Rosie’s complications began on May 16, the day after her surgery, she told CTV News. The eight-year-old had been discharged a few hours after her tonsils were removed and returned home to recover with her mother. Everything seemed fine, she says, until the next morning when she began vomiting blood.

"It’s terrifying," her mother Sarah List says. "It was unbelievable to see this massive amount of blood."

List drove her daughter back to McMaster Children’s Hospital -- the start of a nearly-three week stay that would include three more surgeries and four nights in the pediatric intensive care unit.

“No one could tell us what was wrong,” List says. “I was told several times by one of the ENT (ear, nose and throat) residents that this couldn't be from the surgery, that he thought it was unrelated.”

Rosie was given fluids and medication to manage the pain and was admitted to the ICU. (Sarah List / Handout)

But List says Rosie kept getting sicker and her heart rate kept climbing. List says Rosie was given fluids and medication to manage the pain and was admitted to the ICU.

"She had an infection in her bloodstream and I didn't fully understand until later that it was sepsis," List said.

"She was so lethargic. She was so sleepy," List recalled. "Sometimes they drew blood from her and she didn't even notice it."

Rosie began to develop redness on her neck and doctors drew a line to see if it would spread. When it did spread, List says, she was sent for a CT scan. When the results came back, List says her daughter was immediately booked for emergency surgery to drain the abscess and prevent further infection.

After the surgery, Rosie was on a ventilator to help her breathe. After more than a week, she was scheduled to be discharged. Her tubes were removed and she was allowed to eat solid food before going home. After eating a hard-boiled egg, List says her daughter complained the bandage on her neck covering the incision felt especially full and they asked a nurse to change the dressing.

"The nurse looked, and there were little bits of hard-boiled egg all in it," List said. "They found out there was a hole. A five-centimetre hole."

Rosie was booked for another surgery to repair the hole, which her mother says basically put her back to square one. She had to go under anesthesia a third time for a feeding tube to be inserted.

After 18 days in the hospital, Rosie was discharged. List says her daughter is doing much better and is now back at school, though she doesn’t always stay the full day.

List says her daughter is doing much better and is now back at school. (Sarah List / Handout)

"I am grateful we do have a dedicated children's hospital, they saved her life," List said. "But this all happened because of a tonsillectomy."

List wants her daughter’s case to be part of the external review looking into the deaths of the two children -- one died the day after their surgery, and the other died nine days after their initial procedure.

The deaths occurred in May and early June. In a statement, the hospital said there is “no apparent connection between these two cases” but they have launched the review out of “an abundance of caution.”

Deaths following tonsil surgery are extremely rare. According to a study in the medical journal JAMA, the rate of postoperative death among children was seven per 100,000 operations. The causes of death in these two cases have not been released.

When asked whether Rosie List’s case would be included in the review, the hospital said in a statement "for privacy reasons, Hamilton Health Sciences cannot share details about specific patients."

In a follow-up statement regarding the allegations, a spokesperson for Hamilton Health Sciences said, "Our priority is to provide optimal care for all of our patients. With respect to pediatric patients undergoing tonsil and adenoid surgery at McMaster Children’s Hospital, we can confirm that the review will be comprehensive."

Correction

An earlier version of this story described the post-operation mortality rate among children following a tonsillectomy as "less than one per cent." The article has been updated to more accurately reflect the rate. 

 

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