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Two-year-old girl died on operating table after San Francisco hospital was warned it couldn’t handle procedure

‘Had I known that anyone at the hospital had concerns about their ability to do that surgery, there is no chance I would have done it’

Bevan Hurley
Friday 15 April 2022 21:41 BST
Tom and Truc-Co Jong with their daughter Ailee
Tom and Truc-Co Jong with their daughter Ailee (Helping Parents Heal)

The parents of a two-year-old girl who died in an operating theatre after doctors at John Muir Health allegedly ignored warnings they were not equipped to perform her specialist surgery have launched legal action against the San Francisco hospital.

Tom and Truc-Co Jung’s daughter Ailee was diagnosed with cancer and had been receiving chemotherapy treatment when she underwent a complicated procedure known as liver resection surgery at John Muir Health in November 2019.

A few hours after her parents said goodbye as she went under anesthetic, Ailee’s heart stopped suddenly and she died in the operating room.

An investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle found senior staff at John Muir had allegedly dismissed warnings that the hospital was not properly equipped to perform liver resection surgery on a child in the weeks before the operation.

In a statement, John Muir Health told The Independent that Ailee had been frail due to her cancer and chemotherapy treatment, and they had her with “provided extraordinary care”.

John Muir CEO Cal Knight said: “Life-saving procedures on extremely ill patients are not always successful.

“This fact is most tragic when the patient is so young.”

The Independent has attempted to contact the Jongs, who are parents to two other children.

Legal documents filed with the Contra Costa County Superior Court have raised questions about whether the hospital disclosed key details to the family prior to surgery.

The lawsuit alleges that John Muir Health had not performed the specialist surgery on a child before, and that the anesthesiologist involved had only recently finished fellowships in paediatric anesthesiology.

Former John Muir medical director Dr Alicia Kalamas raised concerns Ailee might die in surgery, the legal action claims.

John Muir Health disputed Dr Kalamas’ assessment. She has since taken legal action against the hospital after her contract was not renewed, alleging retaliation for raising patient safety concerns.

Tom Jong told the Chronicle: “Had I known that anyone at the hospital had concerns about their ability to do that surgery, there is no chance I would have done it.”

Speaking to Helping Parents Heal website, Ailee’s parents explained that her heart stopped suddenly while she was in surgery, and no one could explain what happened.  

“We needed answers, so we immediately started studying all about her cancer and everything related to the afterlife.”

An investigation into Ailee’s death by California’s Department of Public Health found no state or federal laws had been violated, the Chronicle reported.

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