(CBS4) – A Thornton family has filed a lawsuit against a prominent doctor and a nurse anesthetist saying after their daughter suffered two cardiac arrests and brain damage during cosmetic surgery, the medical professionals overseeing her care did not call 911 for more than five hours.

Emmalyn Nguyen

Emmalyn Nguyen (credit: CBS)

“We just really want to know what happened, what was the truth, what happened back there”, said Lynn Fam, during an interview with CBS4.

Emmalyn Nguyen

Emmalyn Nguyen (credit: CBS)

Last summer, her daughter Emmalyn Nguyen, 18, decided to have breast augmentation performed by Greenwood Village doctor Dr. Geoffrey Kim.

“I was fine with it,” said Fam. “We didn’t think anything like that was going to happen to our daughter. I was a teenage girl once before.”

She said her daughter, a graduate of Mountain Range High School, was healthy and had saved up for the $6,000 procedure, which many of her friends and family had undergone before.

“To us it felt safe,” said Fam.

But in the family’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday by attorney David Woodruff, the lawyer contends Nguyen was left unattended and unobserved for 15 minutes after being given anesthesia Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. by certified nurse anesthetist Rex Meeker. The procedure took place at Kim’s Greenwood Village office, Colorado Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery. The lawsuit alleges negligence and contends that during that initial timeframe, Nguyen went into cardiac arrest and was revived when Dr. Kim performed CPR. But Woodruff says medical records show Nguyen went into cardiac arrest a second time, just a few minutes later, and was again stabilized, but 911 was still not called, even though she was “neurologically unresponsive.”

Emmalyn Nguyen

Emmalyn Nguyen (credit: CBS)

Lynn Fam says what was supposed to be a two hour procedure stretched late into the afternoon and she kept asking what was happening.

“I just had kind of a weird feeling,” said Fam.

She said at various points, staff members misled her about what had occurred. She told CBS4 that at one point Dr. Kim told her ”Everything went fine, the only thing is we didn’t proceed with the procedure because her heart rate dropped but she is fine. He said everything is fine, Emmalyn is fine, everything is good. She’s young, she’s healthy, she’ll be OK, it’s just taking her long to wake up.”

Fam says at one point an office staff member even approached her and gave her a reminder card setting up a follow up appointment.

Kim did not respond to multiple messages left by CBS4, but his attorney, Kari Hershey, told CBS4 “As a physician, Dr. Kim is not at liberty to comment about any specific patient.”

State medical records show Kim has had no previous disciplinary actions against his medical license.

Finally, at 7:35 p.m., the lawsuit says Meeker, the nurse anesthetist, called 911. An ambulance was sent and Nguyen was transported to Littleton Adventist Hospital. After 22 days, she was transported to a rehabilitation hospital where she receives around the clock medical care. Nguyen is now in what is known as a “minimally conscious state” — unable to speak, walk, eat or take care of herself. Her family says she has suffered severe brain damage and will likely remain in this condition for the rest of her life.

Lynn Fam said a lawsuit won’t bring her daughter back but might provide some answers as to what happened.

“That’s a really long time,” Fam said, referring to the gap between the cardiac arrest and the 911 call.

“To me it’s a miracle she pulled through all that and she is still fighting this. I don’t know how they can sleep at night knowing they did this to her. They ruined Emmalyn’s life, not just hers but all of ours.”

Sonny Nguyen, the teen’s father, told CBS4 “I’m a little speechless about how they can wait that long. I’m a little shocked they wait that long for help.”

Woodruff, their attorney, calls the delay in summoning help “unbelievable. When an entire team of healthcare professionals realizes shes in cardiac arrest, they perform CPR then they don’t call 911 for five and a half hours. That’s unconscionable.”

He said there is no such thing as a risk-free procedure.

“If you’re in the wrong hands and health care providers are not paying attention or not doing their job, it carries a risk of significant permanent injury or death and I think everyone should be aware of that.”

Meeker, the nurse anesthetist, was involved in a similar situation in 2007. He served as the nurse anesthetist for Paula Harty, of Silverthorne, who was also undergoing a breast augmentation. According to a 2009 lawsuit filed in that case, Harty suffered low blood pressure and a slow heart rate during the procedure which were unrecognized and led to cardiac arrest and severe brain damage. One month after the procedure, Paula Harty died. Her husband filed suit and named Meeker in the legal action saying he had been negligent, failing to properly administer anesthesia and failing to properly monitor Harty’s condition during the procedure. The suit was eventually settled out of court and the terms are confidential

But Paula Harty’s daughter, Brandy Swenson, told CBS4 she did not think Meeker should have been allowed to continue practicing after her mother’s death.

“They killed my mom, 100%,” said Swenson. “She would be alive today if they had done their jobs right.”

State records show that case did not lead to any state disciplinary action against Meeker. Meeker did not respond to multiple calls and text messages from CBS4 seeking comment. A call and email to an attorney believed to be representing Meeker were also not returned.

Now, every day, Lynn Fam visits her daughter’s bedside, brushing her daughter’s hair, adjusting her pillow and maintaining hope.

“It’s really hard, it’s not easy,” said Fam. But we all try to stay strong in case she can hear us.”

The mother leans in, just inches from her daughter’s face.

“We’re all right here for you. We love you so much. Stay strong,” whispers Fam. “We just want you to go home, we’re all waiting for you, OK?”

Brian Maass

Comments (7)
  1. Tlact says:

    it’s Lynn Pham not fam. You could’ve at least gotten that correct.

  2. Catriona Sands says:

    All you nimrods commenting about how she shouldn’t have had surgery should be brain dead! That’s not the point here, people. The point is she’s brain dead due to mal practice… It could have been anyone in any kind of surgery… Jesus Christ!

  3. Sharon Little says:

    This is pure negligence. I am an operating room nurse and work with top notch MD anesthesiologists who are ALWAYS in the room and monitoring the patient at all times. This certified registered nurse anesthetist who has had one prior terrible outcome should ever practice again. The patient was “unattended and unobserved for 15 minutes after being given anesthesia.” This is completely unacceptable and he is 100% to blame.

    To the commenter who said the parents are not equally responsible, I understand your perspective, but disagree. This patient was a health 18 year old (ASA 1) patient who would have done fine in this surgery when being watched under capable hands, not a negligent CRNA who left the room for 15 minutes to do God knows what after putting the patient under anesthesia. What’s even worse is that he took 5 hours to call 911 after the patient “coded”.

  4. Sherry Weinstein says:

    Unneccessary surgery should not be performed for cosmetic reasons. Parents are equally responsible for this disaster.

  5. Rocky johnson says:

    I guess this is what happens when CRNAs practice independently. What a shame. Anesthesia is serious and should only be administered by a physician, not a nurse. Yet CRNAs continue to lie to the public and say their training is equal to a MD. How many more people must suffer before we realize CRNAs should stop practicing independently?

  6. Stan Lew says:

    An anesthesiologist is a critical care doctor. There is not much need to call 911 when a pt is intubated and you can push all of the same medicines, in fact, they are more equipped to handle the complications of surgery, including arrest, than paramedics. However, a nurse anesthetist is not an anesthesiologist, and if this was an MD anesthesiologist, it may not have happened.

  7. Susan Moore says:

    She was very beautiful. There is no need for cosmetic surgeries. I am 50 years old & I am still do proud of all my physical features given to me by my parents. I have NEVER considered any surgeries.

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