An 18-year-old Colorado woman's planned breast-enhancement surgery in August went wrong, putting her in a coma-like, vegetative state in which she has remained since, her parents allege in a lawsuit.
Emmalyn Nguyen's parents allege negligence in a lawsuit filed in Arapahoe County Court against the doctor and nurse who allegedly administered anesthesia to the young woman before her Aug. 1 surgery.
The lawsuit says that the pair, Dr. Geoffrey Kim and nurse anesthetist Rex Meeker, left Nguyen "unobserved" for 15 minutes after putting her under anesthesia, which the parents claim is contrary to medical best practices.
During the pair's absence, the lawsuit says, something went wrong with the anesthesia. As a result, Nguyen now lives "in a permanent 'semi-conscious' state" and faces "permanent mental and physical impairment" from her brain injury that requires round-the-clock care, including a permanent feeding tube, the suit says.
She has been in a long-term care facility in Denver since late August, the suit says.
"She still has some awareness of her environment," the family's attorney, David Woodruff, told NBC News. "She will cry when she hears her mother’s voice; she responds to pain stimuli. But otherwise she can’t communicate at all. She cannot feed herself at all. She cannot use her arms or legs. She basically just lays there."
Woodruff said there was "virtually zero" chance that Nguyen, who had saved $6,000 for the cosmetic surgery procedure, would ever lead a normal life again.
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NBC News reached out to Kim and Meeker for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
Kim reimbursed the family the $6,000 for the procedure about a month after the incident occurred, Woodruff said.
The lawsuit says that after the anesthesiologist and nurse returned from leaving Nguyen unobserved, the doctor found that the teen's lips and face had turned blue and that discoloration was spreading across her body.
After checking her vital signs, the doctor and nurse discovered that Nguyen had suffered cardiac arrest and after a short pause they performed CPR for two to three minutes before Nguyen's heart rate and pulse returned, according to the lawsuit. Nguyen crashed again, however, requiring another three minutes of CPR before she stabilized.
The lawsuit claims she appeared "neurologically unresponsive" after that and had likely suffered a brain injury, but the doctors waited five hours to call 911.
In the meantime, Woodruff said that the doctor's office told Nguyen's mother, Lynn Pham, that her daughter was fine and just slow to wake up from the anesthesia.
After a period of time, Kim told Pham that the procedure would have to be postponed, but he did not tell her they had twice performed CPR on Nguyen after she had suffered cardiac arrest.
"The first time (the family) heard about it was at the ER when they were doing tests and told them she had cracked ribs from CPR," Woodruff said.
The family is now attempting to acquire surveillance video from the medical office to better understand what happened during the procedure, Woodruff said.
For the family, many questions remain.
"They did chest compressions on her and then waited five hours to call" 911, Woodruff said. "They would know perfectly well that she needed a higher level of care, but they let her lay there and just hoped she wouldn't die."
Pham said she hopes to help others by sharing her daughter's story.
"We’ve decided to share her story to prevent this from happening to anyone else and to help others be aware of the risk that can happen," Nguyen's mother, Lynn Pham, said in a Facebook post. "Please think carefully when trusting your own life under someone else’s hands. This could happen to anyone and unfortunately it happened to our beautiful daughter."
Phil McCausland is an NBC News reporter focused on rural issues and the social safety net.