Police report offers new details in case of 2-year-old who died after Yuma dental appointment

YUMA, AZ - A newly-released report sheds light on what happened, and the panic, inside an Arizona dental office that has been linked to the death of a 2-year-old boy.

Zion Gastelum died four days after visiting the Kool Smiles office in Yuma, but was transported to the hospital moments after he went in for a procedure on December 16, 2017.

A Yuma police report includes interviews with the nurse, dentist, anesthesiologist, as well as Zion's mother.

The report indicates Zion needed crowns for a severe case of cavities, and was placed under anesthesia by a Phoenix-based anesthesiologist contracted by Kool Smiles. The dentist told officers the procedure went "well' and lasted for about 35 minutes.

The report notes the anesthesiologist spent five minutes in the recovery room before the nurse, and Zion's mother, took over from there.

At one point, the mother and nurse both noticed Zion was not breathing and alerted the anesthesiologist, according to the report.

Zion's mother reportedly told police that while in the recovery room, they had him with machines and it kept beeping and (the nurse) turned it off.

That same nurse told officers she had to keep muting her Oximeter, a device that measures oxygen saturation, because the integrated alarm kept going off, also adding she muted the alarm twice, according to the report.

Finally, the nurse told police that sometimes the Oximeter does not provide an accurate reading as it would on an adult.

Per the police report, staff did perform CPR on Zion, who was taken to Yuma Regional Medical Center, and then flown to Phoenix, where he died on December 20.

According to the police report, Zion's mother told police her son had severe brain damage due to him being out for too long and his brain not receiving any oxygen.

Contacted by ABC15 about the release of the police report, a company spokesperson released the following statement:

Our heartfelt sympathies continue to be with the family of Zion Gastelum following this very sad and tragic event. The anesthesiologist who rendered treatment Dec. 16 is an independent specialist who contracts with Kool Smiles for procedures involving the use of anesthesia (he is licensed by the AZ State Board of Dental Examiners). He is not currently providing services to Kool Smiles patients. The equipment used by Kool Smiles dentists, anesthesiologists, and staff is medically appropriate for pediatric patients. Kool Smiles continues to investigate the matter. Due to patient privacy laws and out of respect for the family, it would not be appropriate to comment any further.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner has not yet ruled on a cause and manner of death for Zion Gastelum. Yuma police officials told ABC15 their report has been forwarded to the Yuma County Attorney for review.

Meanwhile, a second death is linked to the same dental office.

Francisca Lares, the mother of 4-year old Lizeth Lares, says her child died after a dental procedure in February 2016.

According to the family, Lizeth went into Kool Smiles for dental treatment to deal with an abscess, a tooth was pulled, and then she started showing signs of fever. The family took her back to the dentist the next day, but was sent home, reportedly told that the girl would be fine.

"The allegation in our case is the dentist, Kool Smiles, didn't comply with the standard of care and had they appropriately prescribed some antibiotics, this could have been avoided," said Marco Mercaldo, with the Mercaldo Law Firm in Tucson.

According to court papers, the child died a few days later.

Lares described her daughter as a bright, lively, and very smart young girl loved by her whole family, especially her grandparents.

"She was lovely. She was my mini-me. We all miss her a lot. She took half of my heart with her. They took something from me that will never come back. It is really hard to make peace with it," said Lares.

Attorneys representing Zion's family say a lawsuit is 'highly likely' in the case.

"At a minimum it would be a wrongful death lawsuit based on the apparent medical negligence," said Michael Poli, an attorney with the Merlin Law Group in Phoenix.

Poli told ABC15 they are awaiting Zion's medical records for review and will seek out experts to weigh in on Zion's procedure and what happened inside the Kool Smiles Clinic on December 16th. Poli and attorney Michael Ponzo are also taking into consideration a settlement from last month between Benevis/Kool Smiles and the Department of Justice.

"Our concerns, at least, focus on whether the medical services or dental services provided to Zion were necessary, whether the family was sufficiently informed of all the potential risks of what was really being done there....and..whether the procedures were done in a proper fashion," Poli said.

The attorneys told ABC15 they could potentially have a lawsuit ready in as early as a few months.

"The family has two basic issues, obviously there's the loss of a child but they also have an interest in making sure it doesn't happen to anybody else," Ponzo said.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner has yet to rule on the cause and manner of Zion's death.

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