Auckland man dies in hospital weeks after wisdom tooth infection

The family of a man who died in hospital weeks after having an infected wisdom tooth extracted has laid a formal complaint after concerns with his care.

Bryce Don Roy Rangitaawa, 44, died at Middlemore Hospital on January 20, a week after he was admitted for an ongoing wisdom tooth infection.

Last week his mother Helen Maria Brown laid a complaint with the Health and Disability Commission to get answers from the various agencies who treated him.

From December 30 to his death on January 20 Rangitaawa had been to his local medical centre five times, a dentist twice and had been seen at two different hospitals.

“I want to know what went wrong, why he couldn’t have been treated sooner and why my boy died,” Brown said.

Brown said a doctor told her Rangitaawa may have had a heart attack but apart from that, there had been little communication, she said.

She had called to speak to the doctor who treated him at Middlemore Hospital but was told he had moved to Australia.

“My boy has always been big, he was strong but he was healthy,” Brown said.

“He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and he loved to exercise, he walked everywhere.”

Rangitaawa had diabetes but had a healthy diet and had no symptoms. He had no known heart condition.

Rangitaawa first complained of an ache in his lower right wisdom tooth on Christmas Eve.

The pain was constant but he managed it with medication at home.

Between December 30 and January 4 Brown said Rangitaawa went to The Doctors Onehunga four times for swelling and pain and was given antibiotics.

“He was given tablets but couldn’t swallow them so was given liquid painkiller and antibiotics but nothing seemed to work,” Brown said.

“Then the pain and swelling in his face and neck got so bad Bryce couldn’t talk and I said, ‘Okay son, you have to go to the hospital’.”

Rangitaawa, who lived in Onehunga with his mother, nieces and nephews, went to Auckland Hospital just after 1pm on January 4.

He was seen in the emergency department, had x-rays taken, and was discharged just after 4pm.

“When we went in he was swollen and couldn’t eat or talk so I was in shock when we got the call to come and collect him,” Brown said.

“They sent him home with some mouthwash and antibiotics and told him to have the tooth removed the next day.”

Hospital notes confirmed Rangitaawa had a broken and abscessed wisdom tooth but do not mention any swelling.

It was suggested if the pain worsened that he saw the maxillofacial team at Middlemore Hospital.

Despite closures over the holiday period Brown found a dentist in Hillsborough which was open on January 5.

The family had to arrange a loan of $480 from Work and Income to cover the cost of the extraction at Confi Dental which needed to be paid for upfront.

The tooth was extracted on January 7.

Rangitaawa told his mother he initially felt better after the tooth was removed but within the week was back at the doctors in pain.

“We went back to the doctor on the 14th of January and it was our fifth visit to him about the tooth,” Brown said.

“The doctor called Middlemore Hospital immediately and said he had an urgent case in front of him.”

Brown immediately took her son to Middlemore Hospital but said there was a queue to see the doctor and it was 10pm by the time he went into surgery.

Rangitaawa spent time in the Intensive Care Unit and was then transferred to a room on a ward.

Days later, Brown was about to visit him in the hospital when she got a call that would send her into a state of shock.

“The phone rang and they said could I come up, they were sorry but Bryce had passed away. I couldn’t believe it, I thought he was doing okay, I am struggling to understand what happened.

“They really can’t say what happened but I do know there was a lot of blood and he was found on the floor,” Brown said.

“No one seems to be able to tell me what happened to my boy.”

Brown is also upset with the way she said her whānau were treated after Rangitaawa’s death.

“When they took Bryce down to the bereavement area we were asked if we could share the room with another grieving family and their loved one,” Brown said.

“I said ‘no’ I needed time just with my son, it was our last time together before he was taken by the undertaker.”

“The whole process felt very cold to me.”

Brown said the month since her son’s death had been a struggle for the family.

Rangitaawa was taken home to the family urupa in Whangaroa near Kerikeri which had given Brown some peace.

“When we got there I was walking from the marae and Bryce’s rugby team from his high school days were there.

“These fully grown men came and they dug his grave and spoke about him to me.

“It was beautiful to hear the impact he had on so many people.”

Brown wished she had insisted on getting her son treated in the hospital right from the start.

“It is a really tricky situation because it is hard to argue in that system,” she said.

Auckland and Middlemore Hospital spokespeople both conveyed their sympathy to Rangitaawa’s whānau for their loss.

Both said they were in communication with the family and could not comment further as the case was before the Coroner.

Director of provider services at Auckland Hospital, Dr Mike Shepherd, passed on his condolences to Rangitaawa’s whānau.

“For ethical and privacy reasons and as the case is with the Coroner we are unable to comment on the details of Bryce’s care,” he said.

“We encourage whānau to get in touch with us directly if they have any concerns about the care we have given to a loved one, or to contact the Health and Disability Commissioner.”

Brown had made a formal complaint with the Health and Disability Commissioner early this week.

“I went to them because the Coroner told me that was the correct process,” Brown said.

She said she wasn’t sure who else to go to because he was treated at so many different places.

“I laid the complaint because I need answers, I want to know why my boy died,” Brown said.

She said she couldn’t help but think if he was treated sooner or there was a different course of action her son would still be alive.

A spokesperson for The Doctors Medical Centre where Rangitaawa was a patient said Rangitaawa’s notes were with the executor of the state.

“The case has been referred to the Coroner. We are in communication with and support the family as the investigation continues.”

A spokeswoman from Confi Dental said there was no mention of any complications in Rangitaawa’s notes but it was recorded he had diabetes.

She said this could mean recovery took longer than usual.

One complication of wisdom tooth removal was “dry socket”, she said. Dry socket can develop in the days after removal and cause pain and infection.


December 24: Rangitaawa first talks of ache in wisdom tooth
December 30-January 4: Visits The Doctors Medical Centre in Onehunga four times for wisdom tooth pain.
January 4: Goes to Auckland Hospital emergency with pain and swelling
January 5: Goes to Confi Dental in Hillsborough – has x-rays. Applies to Work and Income for a loan of $480.
January 7: Tooth extracted at Confi Dental
January 14: Returns to The Doctors Medical Centre in Onehunga and urgently referred to Middlemore Hospital.
January 14: Has surgery and admitted to ICU at Middlemore Hospital.
January 20: Dies on a ward at Middlemore Hospital

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