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Family of Cheerleader Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Plastic Surgeon

The parents of an 18-year-old suburban Boca Raton cheerleader who died last year after breast augmentation surgery called for a ban on the use of general anesthesia at outpatient surgical centers.

Such centers are not equipped to deal with emergencies such as the one that ultimately killed their daughter Stephanie, both Joanne and Thomas Kuleba said during a news conference.

The couple met with reporters two days after they filed suit, claiming Dr. Steven Schuster and other doctors failed to properly treat the West Boca High School senior. She suffered cardiac arrest as a result of a severe reaction to anesthesia during outpatient surgery in March 2008. She died a day later.

Had there been sufficient amounts of the drug dantrolene available at Schuster’s ambulatory clinic, it is likely that Stephanie would be alive today, her mother said.

“Had the proper care been taken by medical professions involved in her surgery, she could be here today and I would not be here before you,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion.

The couple is also trying to promote awareness of malignant hyperthermia, the medical term for the severe reaction their daughter had to anesthesia. They hope Stephanie’s death will spur doctors and others to make sure they have the drug on hand for the rare condition, which occurs only after a person has been given anesthesia.

Thomas Kuleba said that most people are unaware of the risks posed by anesthesia and don’t meet their anesthesiologists until shortly before they are wheeled into the operating room.

Dr. Hector Vila, a Tampa anesthesiologist unconnected to the case, said Florida outpatient surgical centers are subject to some of the toughest regulations in the nation.

Further, he said, people should not fear anesthesia. “Anesthesia is very safe and general anesthesia is very safe,” said Vila, who is chairman of the committee on ambulatory surgery for the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

There are also alternative drugs that can be administered to eliminate the risk of malignant hyperthermia, he said.

The Kulebas are seeking an unspecified amount in damages from Schuster and other doctors, including anesthesiologist Dr. Peter Warheit.

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