‘We’re not going away’: Wilmington widow continues fight for change two years after anesthesia death
Two years ago, Dr. Henry Patel went to the oral surgeon and never came home.
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — This week marks a grim anniversary for one family in Wilmington.
Two years ago, Dr. Henry Patel went to Dr. Mark Austin’s oral surgery office in Leland for dental implants and never came home.
On July 30, 2020, Dr. Patel was put under anesthesia for the procedure and towards the end, his oxygen levels dropped. After a failed attempt to intubate him, 911 was called. He later died at New Hanover Regional Medical Center on August 3, 2020.
After Dr. Patel’s death, the Dental Board issued a consent order on May 6, 2021 suspending Dr. Mark Austin’s dental license. The order alleges that Austin prescribed controlled substances for his staff members, including those outside the scope of practicing dentistry, such as narcotic cough suppressants and sedative-hypnotic medications.
Just a few months later on August 11, Austin permanently surrendered his dental license.
Since his death, Dr. Patel’s wife, Shital Patel, has been fighting for change at the North Carolina Dental Board. She wants to make sure that anytime someone is placed under deep sedation, a certified registered nurse anesthetist or anesthesiologist is in the room to monitor the patient.
“Medical doctors aren’t allowed to do that. They are not allowed to give deep sedation or general anesthesia and perform a service for a patient even in a hospital setting. We think dental professionals need to be held to the same accountability,” Shital Patel said.
In March, Patel went before the dental board with her children and one of her husband’s colleagues to advocate for the change. Since then, Patel says the board received 1,300 pages of comments advocating for a change.
While several support the effort, some dental professionals say an extra person isn’t necessary and could cost patients more money.
“However they’re not telling any of us what they charge to provide deep sedation or general anesthesia,” Patel said. “Looking at my old records and taking a survey of people I know and I ask them to send me their records, it’s anywhere from $800 to $1200.”
After months of receiving comments, the board is set to discuss the rule change at its meeting in September. Patel remains optimistic the Board has reviewed all the information available on over-sedation deaths and additional staff for oral surgery.
“And the cost related. To evaluate that, truly evaluate it and see, really is it the patients who can’t afford it or is it less money that’s going to go to the practice?” she said.
If the board does not elect to make the change, Patel says they will not be giving up. Whether that means introducing legislation or otherwise, she plans to see the cause through because that’s who she is and that’s what her husband would have wanted.
While she continues to push for change, Patel hopes her husband’s story continues to be shared to raise awareness and help prevent other deaths in the future.
“If you’re ever going to be sedated anywhere, anything beyond moderate, ask who else is in the room with you and make the decision accordingly,” Patel said.