Archives for category: Anesthetic risk

The frustration..

Just the other day, I received an email from a parent, saying how she wished there was an available list of precautions, that parents could present, when anesthesia was being considered for a person with Williams Syndrome.  There is a list of precautions, and it has been available since 2004, nearly a decade before Rowan was killed.

The 2004 protocol for use of anesthesia in patients with Williams Syndrome is listed here: in our Report to the California Medical Board

Reading this note, I also learned that the main WS support group in the United States is still under-publicizing the risk (despite research like this: Research from Australia in much of the rest of the world) due to fear of “liability.”

After reading this, I was left with a wide range of emotions.  I felt overwhelming sadness, that our message (and that of others) has not been heard.  I felt anger, toward the hospitals and the WS leaders in the US, for what, at this point, could only be a conscious effort to withhold information from individuals with William’s Syndrome and their caretakers.  I felt devastation, that Rowan is not here to show his own worth to those who are ignorant.  I felt immense grief, for the horrific death of my beautiful son, and the inconceivable knowledge that the silence surrounding it continues to prevent his death from helping others.   And I felt alone, not part of any community.  Instead, an outsider – whose status as bereft, frustrated, and “just a mother” looking for blame – prevents me from finding a place, or being heard – just like before.

And the hope..

I also received an email that told a story.  The story goes like this:

A man looked at Facebook, and saw our petition. That man showed his wife, and she went to our website. They read our story, and cried, and they understood.  They understood every part of our story, from the medical negligence, to the special needs discrimination, to the importance of my “No”.

The woman is a person who asked herself, “What can I do?”, and bravely decided to do something.

This woman happens to be visiting the Washington DC next week, and she is taking our story with her.

She doing what she can.  Maybe she won’t be able to do anything, but she will try. She will try to get it into the next person’s hand. She will try to play her part.  And maybe, we will reach one more person, who will in turn, reach one more.

To that person who is the friend-of-a-friend-who-knows-the-man, to the man who showed his wife, to the wife who is going to Washington, I am thankful.

I have seen a wonderful example of how each small part matters, each piece adds up to a bigger piece.   And someday, all of those pieces could add up to a whole.  I have seen how a simple card, or a simple share, can make a big difference.

And I have seen how, through the frustration, there is a glimmer of hope.

On its way to Washington DC:  Rowan’s Informational Page Final

We didn’t have a choice.  We didn’t.  We simply didn’t.

Yes, in hindsight, we could have taken Rowan to a different town, or Australia.. where proper precautions would have been taken.  If we had known what we know now, we certainly would have put our entire family on that plane.

But I read stories like this one.  I read lots of them.  And I realize that this story isn’t about whether you agree with Cassandra, or her mother, or the doctors.

It’s a story about who is in charge.  And it’s not the parents:

And it wasn’t me.

I pleaded, I begged.  I made phone call after phone call.  Talked to doctor after doctor.

Do it without anesthesia.. “No”

Make him an in-patient.. “No”

Do more tests beforehand.. “No”

Find a better way.. “No”

Listen to me..NO!

“We are one of the best hospitals in the world.  We know what we are doing.”

“There is no other option.”

When they didn’t listen.. they didn’t just take away my son.  They took away my voice.  They took away me.

When people turn away, or don’t take action.. They don’t just turn away from my son.  They don’t just turn away from my loss.  They turn away from me.

And I matter.

“I’m not asking much… just your voice!” the sea witch told Ariel.  Is that really what it takes to live in the human world?

There is absolutely no relief when a bereaved parent can say I told you so.  It only causes more pain.

An article on alternative, and better, methods for heart imaging:

Outraged?  Visit How to Take Action

Copyright © rowansmile 2015. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. Rowan was killed as a direct result of the careless and unnecessary use of general anesthesia for a “routine” outpatient diagnostic procedure.. Without his parents’ consent.  It is okay to post a link to this page.

Peace as the world commonly understands it comes when the summer sky is clear and the sun shines in scintillating beauty, When the pocketbook is full, When the mind and body are free of ache and pain.. but.. true peace… is a calmness of soul amid terrors of trouble, inner tranquility amid the howl and rage of the outer storm..

Martin Luther King Jr.

We will never be able to lose the vision of our son being gassed to death before our eyes, without even the simplest of care or precautions afforded to other children.. because of who he was wrongly perceived to be.  But we will work to find the peace that lies within that terror.

We will always be thankful for, and will always remember, those who faced that terror along with us.  The friends and strangers who left their comfort zones to face a horrible injustice.  The doctors, researchers, and nurses who risked their own reputations to stand up for what was right.  Though we have been unsuccessful in our efforts for justice, we at least have the knowledge that there are courageous people who chose to step up and act.  Through you, and with you, we hope to find peace.

Thank you, with Rowan in our hearts

Copyright © rowansmile 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. Rowan was killed at Rady Children’s Hospital as a direct result of the careless and unnecessary use of general anesthesia for a “routine” outpatient diagnostic procedure. It is okay to post a link to this page.

It is so profoundly upsetting to see reports like this come out. Even though they validate everything we have fought to have recognized about why Rowan’s death was completely preventable, it will always be too late for Rowan……

The summary statement in the abstract for this report states: “We conclude that Williams syndrome confers a significant anaesthetic risk, which should be recognised and considered by clinicians planning procedures requiring general anaesthesia.”

When reviewing the existing literature on WS and anaesthesia, due to the low quantity and quality of these reports, they also conclude “In the opinion of the authors this makes it impossible to designate any patient with Williams syndrome ‘lowrisk’ for anaesthesia or sedation.”

Anaesthesia complications 2014


Copyright © rowansmile 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. Rowan was killed at Rady Children’s Hospital as a direct result of the careless and unnecessary use of general anesthesia for a “routine” outpatient diagnostic procedure.

“You do not have the right to say to a person: I don’t see you the way you are, I want to see you as I would be more comfortable seeing you.” Jane Elliot
I saw Jon Stewart’s piece about Eric Gardner, and I cried. I cried for Eric and his family, but I also cried because Eric’s story felt like another sucker-punch to my stomach.

I don’t think many people realize how connected we feel to these types of stories. Change the police to doctors; change racial discrimination to special needs discrimination, and you have us. Some may think that is too extreme a view, so it is a view that we don’t share with others often. But it is how we feel every day.

I don’t say this to discount racial discrimination or Eric’s personal story, but to point out that discrimination and unfairness in our society and justice system is present at many levels.

After learning of the CDPH report, we are worried that Rowan was discriminated against because of his diagnosis, and therefore killed.

We feel this way because:
1. Based on Rowan’s special needs diagnosis (not on Rowan as a person), Dr. Raymond Fripp labeled Rowan as “uncooperative”
2. Because of this label, Dr. Raymond Fripp ordered the use of general anesthesia (which was dangerous for Rowan) for a diagnostic procedure
3. Because of Dr. Raymond Fripp’s label, Dr. Kathleen Kaya was not required to, and did not, provide precautions typical in all general anesthetic procedures
4. Because of #2 and #3, Rowan was killed
5. And finally, because Rowan had a special needs diagnosis, the hospital was able to justify his abysmal care. Because Rowan had special needs, the California Department of Health was able to support the hospital’s justification, and the Medical Board of California was able to ignore it.

This is how we feel.

Copyright © rowansmile 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. Rowan was killed at Rady Children’s Hospital as a direct result of the carefree and unnecessary use of general anesthesia for a “routine” outpatient diagnostic procedure.   Please visit the rest of our story:

The California Department of Public Health has reached a conclusion of their investigation into Rowan’s death. In their verbal report, they state that the hospital’s policies for anesthesia and the physical environment met all current state standards and they find no regulatory deficiencies. Rowan’s case at the California Department of Public Health is now closed.
In interviews with doctors, the CDPH investigated:

  1. FAILURE TO PLACE AN IV LINE PRIOR TO ANESTHESIA FOR ROWAN. The hospital claims that Rowan was so much at risk from cardiac arrest they didn’t put in an IV line as the “agitation” and crying could kill him. (see “Rowan is uncooperative”)
  2. PLACING ROWAN UNDER GENERAL ANESTHESIA FOR A DIAGNOSTIC EXAM. The hospital claims that Rowan was more than healthy enough, in fact was cleared following a superficial cardiac examination, to follow the general anesthesia guidelines for the general population.

So, Rowan’s physicians and the hospital are saying he was healthy enough for general anesthesia (clearly shown by multiple studies to carry high risk of sudden death for children like Rowan), but not healthy enough to put in the IV line (or any other pre-anesthetic monitoring) that could have saved his life.

As a comparison, it would be negligent to perform general anesthetic induction on an adult with even one significant risk factor for congestive heart disease without placing an IV line prior to induction to maintain hemodynamic balance and allow rapid drug intervention in case of emergencies.

Current recommendations for general anesthesia in children with WS like Rowan highlight the critical importance of maintaining adequate hydration and blood-fluid balance during anesthetic induction. This is almost always done using IV fluids via the placement of an IV line. An IV line also allows for rapid life saving drug administration in the case of sudden cardiac arrest. We know of at least one other child with WS who died under anesthesia, and the hospital claimed that dehydration was the cause. As anesthetic induction is now considered high risk for children with WS, the physical presence of life saving equipment (an example is called ECMO, that takes over the function of the heart) in the room where anesthesia is administered is also highly recommended. None of these recommendations were followed for Rowan, were in fact deliberately ignored, yet all of this is well within acceptable policies and regulations.

The glaring contradiction that Rowan was 1. Too unhealthy and easily agitated for pre-anesthetic monitoring or precautions and 2. Healthy enough for no precautions at anesthetic induction was fully accepted by the CDPH investigating physician as being compliant with acceptable procedures and policies. When we asked the CDPH representative to explain this contradiction, he could not. He could only say, “The CDPH is not responsible for overseeing the doctors’ decisions”.

That the CDPH accepts this clearly bizarre and insulting contradiction and has closed their investigation with no findings against the hospital is insulting, and demonstrates just how systemic the institutionalized suppression of medical malpractice has become. The CDPH justification is that the hospital’s policies on anesthesia (again – it is only institutional policy that CDPH investigates) need to be broad as they have to cover a broad range of patient needs. This justification is an exact representation of the systematic failure and “treating to the average” that lead directly to Rowan’s death.

It is completely unacceptable that Rowan was not seen as an individual with specific medical requirements, despite our loud and repeated concerns. If anyone is in doubt that individuals with special needs are the forgotten minority, this should be a wake-up call. The acceptable policies are boilerplate, sub-standard and no regulatory mechanism exists for the protection of children like Rowan, who are rare, differ from the norm and are uniquely at risk within our medical system.

(Please note the CDPH does not investigate medical errors or malpractice as performed by individual doctors etc.. That is investigated by the California Medical Board, who we have petitioned. To this date, nearly one year after Rowan’s death, we have received no response form the California Medical Board).

UPDATE:   The above is based on a verbal conversation.  When we received a written  letter a month later, it stated ““a common practice in pediatrics to not insert an IV line prior to anesthesia induction

“Rowan is uncooperative”

"Uncooperative?" Rowan receiving an exam October 2013

“Uncooperative?” Rowan receiving an exam October 2013

These are the words that are being used to justify the killing of our amazing son Rowan.
These are the words that the hospital is using to justify not using (not even attempting to use)  an IV catheter, or any another precautions or monitoring before the careless use of general anesthesia.
These are the words that the hospital is using to justify the unnecessary use of general anesthesia for a diagnostic procedure.
Rowan did nothing to deserve this description, other than that he looked different than you or I. Nothing other than being born with Williams Syndrome.

Rowan was happy, playing, and cooperative before anesthetic induction. He was cooperative and without tears as the anesthesia began to flow into his body.

Rowan regularly visited doctors throughout his life, and cried occasionally, just like every other kid.  He cried: 1. Once when he had to fast for 15 hours (12:00 am to 3:30pm) and cried because he was (very) hungry, 2. Once because he had an ophthalmology appointment that lasted for five hours, 3. When he was put on an infant scale (he was happy once he got big enough for a big kid scale), and 4. ONCE (out of five cardiology appts) because he was initially scared of Dr. Fripp. He did not cry for the pediatrician, Rady’s own ophthalmologist, Rady’s own geneticist, or Rady’s own physical therapist, though he did not prefer the dentist.  Oh, and he cried at the grocery store when he didn’t get the food he wanted.

Rowan sat still and happily for blood draws without a tear, received ultrasounds without sedation, and was fascinated by whirring machines. Rowan flirted with nurses, and relaxed in my lap many times when his heart was listened to, he had his blood pressure read, or he received an EKG. Rowan consistently received positive notes from his therapists and teachers about his cooperative nature and willingness to participate.

Rowan was a very cooperative child, who was given a label because he had special needs. And that label killed him.

We are beyond infuriated, but we will not meet this injustice with anger.  Instead, we will show the world the real Rowan.

Please join us, in progress:  Rowan, one year ago today:

Copyright © rowansmile 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. Rowan was killed at Rady Children’s Hospital as a direct result of the careless and unnecessary use of general anesthesia for a “routine” outpatient diagnostic procedure.

Dear Mr. Sewell,

I am writing this letter in support of Dan and Tracey XXX’s request for a full investigation in to the negligent actions of three doctors involved in the care, and ultimately the death, of their three-year old son, Rowan. Those doctors are: Dr. Raymond Fripp, Cardiologist, Rady Children’s Hospital; Dr. Kathleen Kaya, Pediatric Cardiac Anesthesiologist, Rady Children’s Hospital; Dr. John Moore, Chief of Cardiology, Rady Children’s Hospital. As you may now know, Rowan was at Rady to have an elective CT angiogram to evaluate possible coronary artery stenosis. Rowan became hypotensive and bradycardiac while undergoing induction of anesthesia and did not recover from cardiac arrest. Rowan’s doctors and the hospital claim that Rowan died from a “pre-existing condition”, however, the facts surrounding this case do not support their claim. We ask that you investigate those facts, and the negligent actions taken by the doctors involved. Specifically:

Dr. Fripp did not provide accurate information to Rowan’s parents for informed consent, and deliberately misrepresented the risks associated with general anesthesia for children with Williams Syndrome. Additionally, Dr. Fripp did not offer Rowan’s parents, or inform them of, alternatives to anesthesia that carry little to no risk, such as play therapy— despite these alternatives being the standard of care for at risk children at neighboring Children’s Hospitals. 1

Dr. Kaya also misrepresented her knowledge of the anesthetic risk for children with Williams Syndrome and was negligent in her administration of anesthesia to Rowan on the day he died. Not only were the basic standards for all children not followed (e.g. no IV line placed prior to induction, inadequate cardiac monitoring during induction), but the specified recommended standards for children with Williams Syndrome were also ignored by Dr. Kaya.2,3 Their specific complaints are: the use of non-recommended anesthetic agent, the absence of ECMO in the CT room, no IV re-hydration to maintain hemodynamic balance, and inadequate monitoring.

Dr. John Moore deliberately misrepresented the primary reason for the CT scan in the medical record after Rowan’s death. Leading up to the procedure, Rowan’s parents were told a CT was necessary to assess the coronary arteries for signs of stenosis, which they now know if present, significantly increases the risk of sudden death under anesthesia.4 After Rowan’s death, the reason for the scan was changed to assessing his pre-existing SVAS and PAS, with no mention of coronorary artery stenosis. SVAS and PAS can easily be assessed using ultrasound- with no need for sedation or general anesthesia.

Dr. Fripp, Dr. Kaya and Dr. Moore, as well as the other medical professionals at Radys, treated Rowan as a low-risk patient, when published medical knowledge suggested he be treated as the highest risk possible. Unfortunately, these doctors have not learned from their mistakes and are still attempting to put children with Williams Syndrome under general anesthesia unnecessarily.5

A number of negligent actions and decisions made in Rowan’s case by his doctors resulted in his death, but for me, a parent of two small children, the most heinous offense was committed when Dr. Kaya called Rowan’s parents the night of his death, a call supported by Rady, and suggested that Rowan died due to the stress from crying while being put under. The utter hubris in this statement is sickening and concerning, and one of the reasons why I started an online-petition to ask the Department of Health to open an investigation into Rowan’s death, which is currently underway. We have collected over 4,800 signatures from individuals who are demanding the doctors be held responsible, and that action be taken to prevent more preventable deaths from happening due to negligence and mis-information. I have included this petition, as well as comments made by signers.

Myself, and over 4,800 people believe an investigation in to Rowan’s death is not only the right thing to do, but imperative for the safety of many other vulnerable children in your State. We hope you agree.


1. A case report on anesthesia-related deaths of patients with WS and SVAS highlights “the potential risks of providing sedation or general anesthesia for patients with WS, SVAS, and coronary artery disease.” In: Horowitz PE, Akhtar S, Wulff JA, Al Fadley F, Al Halees Z. Coronary artery disease and anesthesia-related death in children with Williams syndrome. J Cardiothorac Vasc Anesth 2002;16:739-41

2. Stamm et al. suggest that every patient with SVAS should be considered high risk for myocardial ischemia. The authors point out that procedures that produce a sudden drop in coronary perfusion pressure, such as anesthesia, have led to acute myocardial ischemia and procedure-related sudden death. In: Stamm C, Friehs I, Ho SY, Moran AM, Jonas RA, del Nido PJ. Congenital supravalvar aortic stenosis: a simple lesion? Eur J Cardiothorac Surg 2001;19:195–202

3. A more recent study by Ergul et al. concluded that the incidence of coronary artery defects and myocardial ischemia in children with WS is much higher than previously thought. They went on to recommend more detailed non-invasive and awake testing before considering anesthesia, and the use of mild sedation rather than anesthesia if needed. “Many deaths have occurred during anesthesia/sedation …, suggesting that decreased cardiac output from anesthetic agents in concert with coronary artery abnormalities alter myocardial perfusion.” In: Ergul Y, Nisli K, Kayserili H, Karaman B, Basaran S, Dursun M, Yilmaz E, Ergul N, Unal SN, Dindar A. Evaluation of coronary artery abnormalities in Williams syndrome patients using myocardial perfusion scintigraphy and CT angiography. Cardiology J 2012; 19(3):301-308

4. In their review of the pathology of SVAS and the literature regarding sudden death associated with sedation and anesthesia, Burch et al. conclude that “with congenital SVAS, myocardial ischemia has been implicated in a majority of cases of sudden death occurring in conjunction with anesthesia or sedation. Features common to the reported cases are sudden, rapid hemodynamic deterioration associated with hypotension and bradycardia and lack of response to aggresive resuscitative measures”. They go on to further state that coronary arterial flow impairment can occur even in the absence of significant SVAS, and therefore caution should be taken regardless of the varying degrees of SVAS. In: Burch TM, McGowan FX, Kussman BD, Powell AJ, DiNardo JA. Congenital supravalvular aorticstenosis and sudden death associated with anesthesia: what’s the mystery? Anesth Analg. 2008 Dec; 107(6):1848-54

5. Comment from our online petition:
“I don’t even know where to begin… Reading this story is heartbreaking and I can’t imagine how this family feels. This story was brought to my attention a few months ago.. This hits very close to home. You see, we too live in San Diego and go to Rady’s hospital. My son actually goes to the same Cardiologist as Rowan did. Since my son was born we have had 3 Echo’s, All at Rady’s and all under sedation medicine. Most recently my sons heart went from Mild to Moderate and the Cardiologist said that giving my son sedation medicine has become more risky b/c once he eats the medicine its in his system and they have no control over it. Plus, when they do an echo it is with a nurse & Technician.. My Cardiologist suggested that our only next step would be to do an Echo under general anesthesia. Even though its more risky he would be in the hands of professionals and doctors and anesthesiologists in case something happened they would have “more control” I was very concerned obviously being that I have read so much on the WS Support page about the risks with our kids and anesthesia. I brought these concerns up to my doctor multiple times and I even brought up little Rowan b/c I had heard about him through one of our therapists whom we actually shared. My Cardiologist said it was the next step. At some point I just had to believe we were doing the right thing. But I was really scared and preparing myself for the worst. I happened to get a 2nd opinion 2 days ago at CHLA.. I was EXTREMELY surprised and shocked to have received a ECHO under with NO DRUGS AT ALL! I’m sorry but I have never been given the option. I had NO IDEA this was an option. We have sedated my baby 3 times for an ECHO and were about to put his life at risk under general Anesthesia because “this was our only option”. Are you kidding me? You can do an echo with no risk to my child’s life? You can imagine how i felt. This hospital has obviously not learned their lesson and although they did make us 1st case of the day and said he was “High Risk” They have put his life at risk unnecessarily 3 times. and were about to for a 4th. I’m sorry for the long post but after reading this I am heart broken for this family and because they shared their story I was much more aware of the risks and they helped possibly save my child. I will sign this petition and get every person I can to sign it too..”

*Note- it has since been determined that this child’s cardiologist is not the same cardiologist as Rowan’s (Dr. Fripp), but rather Dr. Moore, the head of cardiology at Rady

They start throwing everyone else under the bus, and start making things up.

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I have to admit, in the darkest to times, I have held onto the hope that Rowan’s doctor was a good guy.  He was so sweet and kind, and soothingly spoke to us time and time again about our concerns.  He met our daughter and talked to her lovingly about her little brother just days before he killed Rowan.

Surely, Rowan’s death spoke to him.  Surely he had heeded the lessons learned.  Surely, he understood the impact of what he had done.  Surely, he understood the value of Rowan’s life.

And then..

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