A 15-year-old in England suffered two strokes and required open-heart surgery after contracting endocarditis due to a dental procedure.

Orthodontist Treating Child

A teenage girl in Britain narrowly avoided death in December, The Sun reports, after a routine tightening of her braces led to a severe heart infection.

Braces Tightening Led To Severe Heart Infection, Mother Claims

Leah Kitchen, 15 years old, began to show signs of endocarditis, a virulent infection in the heart tissue, only one week after undergoing her usual brace tightening session in late-November 2017. Kitchen had a fever, chills and muscle aches, her mother told reporters, which led to a late-night visit to a emergency medical facility near their home in Hull, eastern England.

Nurses suspected that Leah had come down with the flu, but the teen's mother wasn't so sure. The girl had started to show signs of a neurological condition; she became "confused and forgetful," the Sun writes. Soon, the family was checking in to Hull Royal Infirmary, a branch of the United Kingdom's National Health Service.

At first, the doctor's hospitals set their diagnostic sights on meningitis, an inflammatory infection of the brain tissues. Blood tests confirmed that Leah had an infection, but it wasn't yet clear which type she had contracted. Further investigation, namely a lumbar puncture (or "spinal tap"), ruled out the possibility of meningitis. But an MRI of the girl's spine found evidence of a different type of infection: endocarditis.

Two Strokes & Open Heart Surgery

Eventually, the doctors put all of the pieces together. Bacteria had entered Kitchen's blood stream, flowed to her heart and caused two miniature strokes. And, since lab tests found traces of Leah's metal braces inside her heart, Kitchen's mother, 42-year-old Andrea Kitchen, believes the braces-tightening procedure is to blame.

After her diagnosis, Leah was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary for an open-heart surgery. The procedure lasted for five-and-half hours; Leah stayed in the hospital for another eight weeks being monitored and taking antibiotics. Thankfully, Leah is now home with her family and "90% back to her normal self," according to her mother. But from here on out, she'll have to receive routine monitoring at the hospital.

"She'll be under Leeds General for the rest of her life," her mother says, "we have a six week check up and that will go to every three months, to every six months to then once a year."

Dentists Fight To Prevent Endocarditis

Over the last two decades, medical researchers have come to understand that endocarditis, a bacterial infection in the inner lining of the heart, is usually caused by bacteria that begin in the mouth. That means dentists play a special role in preventing the life-threatening infection, since even routine dental procedures can force oral bacteria into the bloodstream.

Current guidelines from the American Dental Association suggest that patients who live at an increased risk for endocarditis should receive antibiotics prior to dental procedures:
  • prosthetic cardiac valves
  • personal history of infective endocarditis
  • cardiac transplant with valve regurgitation
  • certain congenital heart defects
A recent rash of medical malpractice lawsuits has focused on the issue, as patients who developed severe infections accuse their dentists of violating the standard of care.

The Legal Herald

About Laurence Banville

Attorney Contributor:

Laurence P. Banville, Esq. is the managing partner of Banville Law. He is a regular contributor on several topics including negligent security cases, child sexual abuse and Dram Shop and liquor liability cases.

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