Medical officials launch investigation into death of 2-year-old girl on San Francisco hospital operating table

Ailem Jung’s death is being probed by Medical Board of California

Bevan Hurley
Friday 15 April 2022 21:51 BST
<p>Tom and Truc-Co Jong with their daughter Ailee</p>

Tom and Truc-Co Jong with their daughter Ailee

Medical officials in California have launched an investigation into whether a San Francisco hospital failed to provide adequate care to a two-year-old cancer patient who died on the operating theatre.

Tom and Truc-Co Jung filed a lawsuit this month, three years after their daughter Ailee died while undergoing a complicated procedure known as liver resection surgery at John Muir Health in November 2019.

San Francisco Chronicle investigation 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.

John Muir Health have denied any wrongdoing, and told The Independent that Ailee had been frail due to her cancer and chemotherapy treatment, and they had provided her with “extraordinary care”.

Ailee, who was suffering from stage 4 cancer, died on 12 November 2019 after her heart stopped suddenly during surgery.

According to the Chronicle, her parents Tom and Truc-Co had been wary about the complicated liver resection operation, but had been assured by one of the doctors that they could “do this with my eyes closed”.

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.

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.”

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.

In a statement, John Muir CEO Cal Knight told The Independent the surgeons who operated on Ailee had more than ten years of experience, and were supported by highly-qualified paediatric anesthesiologists. 

He said the care team had discussed the risks related to the procedure with the family.

“Life-saving procedures on extremely ill patients are not always successful,” he said.

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

John Muir Health said it welcomed the review by the California Medical Board, and offered its sympathies to the Jung family.

“We strongly believe the Board will come to the same conclusion as the California Department of Public Health, the Professional Practice Evaluation Committee, and the Root Cause Review:  the clinical team provided expert care to an extremely ill child.”

Medical Board of California spokesman Carlos Villatoro told The Independent that the board were aware of the complaint and had begun an inquiry into Ailee’s death.

Attorney Daniel Horowitz, who is representing the Jungs, told The Independent the inquiry was a “stunning development”.

He said under California law, doctors were compelled to cooperate with an investigation by the medical board.

“Top medical experts will review their work independent of the internal John Muir investigation process,” he said.

An investigation into Ailee’s death by California’s Department of Public Health 2019 found no state or federal laws had been violated.

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