Cosmetic Surgery Leaves Thornton Teen Brain Damaged, Mother 'Just Wants Daughter Back'
(CBS4) - A Thornton family has filed a lawsuit against a prominent doctor and a nurse anesthetist saying after their daughter suffered two cardiac arrests and brain damage during cosmetic surgery, the medical professionals overseeing her care did not call 911 for more than five hours.
"We just really want to know what happened, what was the truth, what happened back there", said Lynn Fam, during an interview with CBS4.
Last summer, her daughter Emmalyn Nguyen, 18, decided to have breast augmentation performed by Greenwood Village doctor Dr. Geoffrey Kim.
"I was fine with it," said Fam. "We didn't think anything like that was going to happen to our daughter. I was a teenage girl once before."
She said her daughter, a graduate of Mountain Range High School, was healthy and had saved up for the $6,000 procedure, which many of her friends and family had undergone before.
"To us it felt safe," said Fam.
But in the family's lawsuit, filed Wednesday by attorney David Woodruff, the lawyer contends Nguyen was left unattended and unobserved for 15 minutes after being given anesthesia Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. by certified nurse anesthetist Rex Meeker. The procedure took place at Kim's Greenwood Village office, Colorado Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery. The lawsuit alleges negligence and contends that during that initial timeframe, Nguyen went into cardiac arrest and was revived when Dr. Kim performed CPR. But Woodruff says medical records show Nguyen went into cardiac arrest a second time, just a few minutes later, and was again stabilized, but 911 was still not called, even though she was "neurologically unresponsive."
Lynn Fam says what was supposed to be a two hour procedure stretched late into the afternoon and she kept asking what was happening.
"I just had kind of a weird feeling," said Fam.
She said at various points, staff members misled her about what had occurred. She told CBS4 that at one point Dr. Kim told her "Everything went fine, the only thing is we didn't proceed with the procedure because her heart rate dropped but she is fine. He said everything is fine, Emmalyn is fine, everything is good. She's young, she's healthy, she'll be OK, it's just taking her long to wake up."
Fam says at one point an office staff member even approached her and gave her a reminder card setting up a follow up appointment.
Kim did not respond to multiple messages left by CBS4, but his attorney, Kari Hershey, told CBS4 "As a physician, Dr. Kim is not at liberty to comment about any specific patient."
State medical records show Kim has had no previous disciplinary actions against his medical license.
Finally, at 7:35 p.m., the lawsuit says Meeker, the nurse anesthetist, called 911. An ambulance was sent and Nguyen was transported to Littleton Adventist Hospital. After 22 days, she was transported to a rehabilitation hospital where she receives around the clock medical care. Nguyen is now in what is known as a "minimally conscious state" -- unable to speak, walk, eat or take care of herself. Her family says she has suffered severe brain damage and will likely remain in this condition for the rest of her life.
Lynn Fam said a lawsuit won't bring her daughter back but might provide some answers as to what happened.
"That's a really long time," Fam said, referring to the gap between the cardiac arrest and the 911 call.
"To me it's a miracle she pulled through all that and she is still fighting this. I don't know how they can sleep at night knowing they did this to her. They ruined Emmalyn's life, not just hers but all of ours."
Sonny Nguyen, the teen's father, told CBS4 "I'm a little speechless about how they can wait that long. I'm a little shocked they wait that long for help."
Woodruff, their attorney, calls the delay in summoning help "unbelievable. When an entire team of healthcare professionals realizes shes in cardiac arrest, they perform CPR then they don't call 911 for five and a half hours. That's unconscionable."
He said there is no such thing as a risk-free procedure.
"If you're in the wrong hands and health care providers are not paying attention or not doing their job, it carries a risk of significant permanent injury or death and I think everyone should be aware of that."
Meeker, the nurse anesthetist, was involved in a similar situation in 2007. He served as the nurse anesthetist for Paula Harty, of Silverthorne, who was also undergoing a breast augmentation. According to a 2009 lawsuit filed in that case, Harty suffered low blood pressure and a slow heart rate during the procedure which were unrecognized and led to cardiac arrest and severe brain damage. One month after the procedure, Paula Harty died. Her husband filed suit and named Meeker in the legal action saying he had been negligent, failing to properly administer anesthesia and failing to properly monitor Harty's condition during the procedure. The suit was eventually settled out of court and the terms are confidential
But Paula Harty's daughter, Brandy Swenson, told CBS4 she did not think Meeker should have been allowed to continue practicing after her mother's death.
"They killed my mom, 100%," said Swenson. "She would be alive today if they had done their jobs right."
State records show that case did not lead to any state disciplinary action against Meeker. Meeker did not respond to multiple calls and text messages from CBS4 seeking comment. A call and email to an attorney believed to be representing Meeker were also not returned.
Now, every day, Lynn Fam visits her daughter's bedside, brushing her daughter's hair, adjusting her pillow and maintaining hope.
"It's really hard, it's not easy," said Fam. But we all try to stay strong in case she can hear us."
The mother leans in, just inches from her daughter's face.
"We're all right here for you. We love you so much. Stay strong," whispers Fam. "We just want you to go home, we're all waiting for you, OK?"
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