Family speaks out after wrongful death settlement with Wichita dentist

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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DERBY, Kan. -- It was toward the end of October 2010 when 20-year-old Kelsey Heston decided she couldn't put off a dentist visit anymore. She had a toothache and needed a teeth cleaning. She went in for a relatively routine procedure -- nothing major.

But she would never recover from that procedure. In fact, her family says, it claimed her life.

"It's been three years, but every day it seems like it just happened yesterday," Kelsey's mother Debbie said.

Kelsey had a very strong fear of the dentist office. When she found a dentist in Wichita who did conscious sedation, she thought it would be a good fit.

She had an appointment on October 27, 2010, and then went back the next day for a dental procedure.

Debbie dropped Kelsey off at the office and was told they would call her when Kelsey was ready to be picked up.

Just abut two hours later, they called and told Debbie that Kelsey wasn't done yet but that was 'everything was going fine.'

In the early afternoon, Debbie went to pick up Kelsey. When she got there, she says something wasn't right. Kelsey was so lethargic she couldn't walk and staff brought her out in a wheelchair.

"I thought that was real unusual that she was so sedated," Debbie said.

But Debbie says there at the office she was reassured everything was fine and to give them a call if she needed anything.

Debbie says she decided to go home with Kelsey to Kelsey's apartment so she could keep an eye on her. As Kelsey continued to be lethargic, Debbie says at about 8 p.m. she started calling Dr. Jones and leaving him messages.

She says he called back two hours later and again assured her everything was fine.

"He told me, 'A lot of patients have this problem. She'll wake up in the morning saying she'd have the best sleep she'd ever had,'" Debbie said.

With that assurance, they didn't go to the emergency room. Debbie stayed with Kelsey, checking in on her frequently.

But in the morning, the family's world was turned upside down.

"I woke up at 6:20 a.m. and she wasn't breathing so I called 911," Debbie said. "They showed up and they couldn't resuscitate her."

It wasn't until after the funeral and more than two months later, Debbie and her husband Fred would get wind of what witnesses say really happened in Dr. Jones' dentist office on October 28, 2010.

It was right before Christmas when the Derby couple got a phone call out of the blue telling them to look into what had happened during the appointment.

"First it was shock, then it was validation because we always felt like something wasn't right," Debbie said.

After some investigating, they filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Jones.

According to the lawsuit, they say Jones didn't gather medical information about Kelsey, especially information related to her diabetes and bad reactions she had had in the past.

Former dentist office employees testified Kelsey had started having chest pains during the procedure. The lawsuit alleges that Kelsey 'pleaded for her life' because she believed she was having a diabetic ketoacidosis attack. She asked him to stop and call her parents immediately.

Debbie and Fred say he never called to give them that information.

"It just hurts because you think of your daughter sitting there wanting you," Debbie said.

The lawsuit also alleges that Kelsey was taken to the bathroom at the office and left alone. She was later found unconscious on the bathroom floor.

Experts testified Jones gave Kelsey too much of the sedative. The lawsuit alleges he did not test her blood sugar and instead gave her sugar when she was feeling sick.

"We realized he had done something extremely, extremely wrong," Fred said.

In his legal answer to the court, Jones denied all the allegations.

KAKE News tried to contact him but listed telephone numbers are out of date. The Heston's say they believe he is now working as a dentist in the Kansas City area.

Jones was fined $1000 in a related case because he was operating without a license to sedate patients.

The Heston's say about a month after Kelsey's death the state did put regulations in place for sedation and now has a board that monitors those regulations.

In December, the Heston's settled their wrongful death lawsuit with Jones. The terms don't allow them to disclose the financial settlement.

Debbie and Fred Heston say while they're glad to have the lawsuit behind them, the painful memory of that day in October 2010 will never go away.

But stronger than that memory is the memory of all the wonderful things about Kelsey.

They say she had an outgoing personality that allowed her to make friends easily. They say 400 of those friends paid their respects at her funeral.

They say Kelsey loved animals, especially horses. There is a plaque at the Sedgwick County Zoo that recognizes donations in her memory. They also have donated to the Southwinds Equine Animal Rescue in her honor.

She also loved to travel, to draw and to model.

Her parents say as they remember their daughter, they hope you'll remember her story.

Their hope is Kelsey's story will save someone's life.

"If a parent ever takes their child to any kind of appointment, even if they get that reassurance, and they don't feel right about it, act on it," Debbie said. "If you feel like something is wrong, don't take that assurance, take that extra step," Debbie said.

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