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Teen dies of illness after root canal

A Blue Island teenager who died last week of a sepsis infection after root canal surgery was a victim of circumstances so rare that “it just doesn’t happen,” a dental expert said.

Two days after 17-year-old Christopher Schutzius died at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, many questions remained unanswered Friday.

The owner of Dental Dreams in Blue Island, where Schutzius had surgery on Feb. 1, said the business was investigating the matter, while an expert in root canal therapy questioned whether underlying conditions contributed to Schutzius contracting sepsis.

Sepsis is a severe illness in which the bloodstream is overwhelmed by bacteria, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine Web site.

To die from sepsis after root canal “is extremely rare because it just doesn’t happen,” said Dr. Christopher Wenckus who heads the endodontics (root canal therapy) department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It happens maybe once every 50 years.”

Oak Lawn dentist Tom Remijas said, “People don’t die from root canals. You die from the infection.”

Dr. Frank Weine, of Olympia Fields, a retired endodontics expert, also said it is rare for a death from sepsis to occur after oral surgery.

Wenckus, a dentist for 37 years, wondered whether an infected tooth contributed to the problem and whether the sepsis infection was present elsewhere in the boy’s body or in a tooth. He said he “would love to see the X-rays” taken before the surgery was performed at Dental Dreams, 12200 S. Western Ave.

“Was that tooth infected prior to the root canal? If it’s a live tooth, with a functioning nerve, there’s no way in hell this takes place,” Wenckus said. “Surgery can’t cause it. There’s got to be an underlying condition.”

He said it’s possible for an infection to spread from a bad tooth but there would have been warning signs, such as increased swelling and soreness in the mouth. Schutzius’ foster mother, Laura Serna, said Schutzius did not have those complaints, although he did complain of body aches and a sore throat before being taken to the hospital Tuesday night.

Serna said Thursday that Schutzius was not given a prescription for antibiotics after his surgery. Wenckus said standard care doesn’t include antibiotics unless the patients shows symptoms of an infection, like a fever or swelling.

“If someone has an infected tooth, [their face] is swollen and bad and nasty. That’s the time you use an antibiotic. How do they know the sepsis came from an infected tooth?” Wenckus said.

Serna declined further comment Friday. She had said Thursday that Schutzius went to the clinic Feb. 1 to replace a filling that fell out when he was eating a caramel and she wondered why a root canal was performed.

Wenckus suspects tooth decay may have caused the filling to come loose and prompted the decision to do a root canal.

Dentist Sameera Hussain, who owns the Blue Island Dental Dreams clinic, declined to name the dentist who did the surgery.

“A patient who was recently treated at our clinic has later passed away,’’ she said, reading from a prepared statement. “We are very shocked, obviously, to hear this, and we express our deepest condolences to the family. We are conducting a thorough review of his treatment, and we will provide further details as they become available to us.”

Hussain has been registered with the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation since 1998, and no disciplinary action has ever been taken against her, according to the IDPR website. She did not do the surgery on Schutzius.

Visitation for Schutzius, who was a senior at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday at McGann Funeral Home, 10727 S. Pulaski. Burial will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Evergreen Cemetery, 3401 W. 87th St., Evergreen Park.

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