February 4, 2013 – A tragedy at a Pennsylvania surgical center is bringing attent-
ion to the dangers in medical recovery rooms.
Doctors told the parents of 17-year-old Mariah Edwards that their daughter was
in the clear following a routine surgery to remove her tonsils. But the next thing
they knew, their only daughter was lying in a hospital bed lifeless and brain dead.
Mariah Edwards was a high school junior full of dreams and plans for the future.
“She could light up a room just walking though the door,” her father said.
Three days after her 17th birthday in March of last year, Mariah walked into Abing-
ton Surgical Center in Willow Grove as a typical healthy teenager.
An outpatient tonsillectomy, that took less than an hour, was supposed to be the
quick fix for her nagging sore throats.
“I said ‘mommy loves you, I’ll see you after your surgery,’ and that was the last
time I saw her alive,” her mother, Angelique Mitchell, said.
The doctors initially reported to Angelique that her daughter’s surgery was a succ-
“I was told she was fine and she was going home and the next thing you know, she
is brain dead,” Mitchell said.
The once jubilant teen was rushed to the hospital, tied up to tubes, with no signs
“How does this happen? How does this happen?” a tearful Mitchell said.
The parent’s attorney Joel Feller uncovered the truth about what happened once
Mariah was taken off the operating table and brought into the recovery room.
“She died as a result of being abandoned, not monitored, and not watched by
nurses, in the recovery room for a period of over 25 minutes,” Feller said.
The lawsuit claims Mariah laid there helpless after nurses administered a dose
of the painkiller fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is a very potent narcotic, something like 50 to 80 times more potent
than morphine,” Feller said.
That drug, Feller says, threw Mariah into respiratory distress, but the nurse who
was supposed to be watching her was busy tending to another patient.
“In a lot of respects, the recovery room is more dangerous than the operating
room,” Feller said.
In an operating room, a patient is being cared for by a team of nurses, doctors,
and an anesthesiologist. But in the recovery room, a single nurse is often left
to attend to several patients who are coming out of anesthesia, administered
powerful painkillers, and unable to communicate for themselves.
“You can only take care of one patient at a time,” Dr. John Clark, Clinical Dir-
ector of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, said. Dr. Clark has found
some of the greatest dangers in post-op are a result of improper monitoring.
In a shocking admission during discovery, a nurse at Abington Surgical Center
in Willow Grove admitted the monitors attached to Mariah were muted.
“It was not just this monitor that was muted, all the monitors were muted for
sound,” the nurse said.
“If it is not providing that information then you are flying blind,” Clark said.
The lawsuit claims Mariah laid there in respiratory distress with the curtains
drawn, her brain literally starved by the lack of oxygen.
“When I got to the hospital, I never saw her eyes open or alive again,” Mitchell
Abington Surgical Center did not want to go on camera, but the center sent a
statement, saying in part:
“The Center changed several policies and procedures to assure incidents such
as this do not happen again.”
They no longer allow monitors to be muted, for curtains to be drawn, and they
are requiring a one-to-one staffing of nurses and patients when the patient is
given high powered narcotics. But those procedures vary from center to center
and hospital to hospital.
So it’s important to ask about the recovery room plans before you go into surgery,
what drugs will be administered, and who will be watching you.