msnbc.com
updated 5/15/2010 12:21:45 PM ET 2010-05-15T16:21:45

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who died during a visit to the dentist is struggling to get answers on what went wrong.

Crystal Lewis said she took her son, Jacobi Hill, to the Virginia Commonwealth University dental clinic on Tuesday to get several of his teeth capped.

The boy was given anesthesia. Lewis said that after a breathing tube was removed, her son's heart stopped.

An ambulance took the boy to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Lewis told WTVR on Friday that staff at the clinic never told her about any possible risks of sedation. She said the last time she saw him, right before the procedure, he was awake.

"It just feels like he’s away. I’m still waiting for him to walk through the door,” she said.

The state Medicaid agency is investigating the death.

An autopsy was performed Thursday, but the state medical examiner's office said it could take weeks to determine the cause and manner of death, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Sedation used frequently
Dentists often sedate children to keep them from moving during procedures. But sedation carries risks, and there have been deaths.

"It's used thousands of times every day," dentist Indru Punwani, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and head of the pediatric dentistry department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Times-Dispatch.

The academy did not have any statistics on how often adverse events occur during sedation. But there have been recent reports in the news of two Florida children who died during separate dental procedures where sedation was used.

Dr. Robert Campbell, a pediatric oral surgeon at Virginia Dental and Anesthesia Associates, told the Times-Dispatch the most common cause of death in dental offices under anesthesia is related to an airway condition.

Lewis said her oldest son had undergone the same procedure previously and did not have any problems.

Internal probe
VCU officials declined to discuss the case, pending the outcome of the autopsy.

“Virginia Commonwealth University wants to understand what happened in connection with the tragic event involving a pediatric patient,” the university said in a statement. “Our internal investigation continues, and we are awaiting the results of the autopsy conducted by the Virginia Office of the Medical Examiner. We have been in contact with the patient’s family, and we will continue to be available to them."

A community vigil was held for Jacobi Friday evening at Hope Village Apartments where he lived. Many of the mourners wore green silk-screen shirts with Jacobi's picture on them.

"It's sad to lose your child at a dentist's appointment ... the only thinking your thinking about giving is giving them Tylenol or Motrin when they come home," family friend Tracey Brown told WTVR.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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