Hearing starts for dentist in case of girl who suffered brain damage after procedure

The hearing for an Edmonton dentist begins on Monday, one year after five-year-old Amber Athwal was left with brain damage after a dental procedure.

‘We don't want any other parents to suffer what we are going through'

Amber Athwal sits in a chair in her home as her father encourages her to repeat the names of colours on a toy. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

A hearing starts Monday for the dentist who cared for five-year-old Amber Athwal before she suffered brain damage while under a general anesthetic a year ago.

Dr. William Mather faces a charge of unprofessional conduct under the Health Professions Act. The hearing by the Alberta Dental Association and College is open to the public and is expected to continue for three weeks.

On Friday, Mather's office was still open and the phone line was operational.

Amber Athwal as she appeared on Sept. 2, 2016, leaving her home for kindergarten orientation day and a trip to the dentist. (Courtesy of the Athwal family)

Ramandeep Singh, Amber`s father, has been anticipating the start of the hearing.

"Main reason to know about this [is] to find out the reason behind this so that it won't happen to any other child," Singh said.  "We don't want any other parents to suffer what we are going through."

"I want to spend each and every second there. I want to listen to what happened and what went wrong."

On Sept. 7, 2016 Amber stopped breathing after a procedure in Mather's dental office where she was given a general anesthetic. The child now has a permanent brain injury. 

Ramandeep Singh, 31, plays with his daughter Amber Athwal as he encourages her to speak. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

In the family's home, Amber sits strapped into a chair while Singh encourages her say the names of colours on a toy. 

She smiles the whole time, sometimes looking at the toy, sometimes looking away. 

Amber doesn't say the names, but Singh doesn't give up. He, his wife, and his younger daughter sit with Amber three times a day.

She once spoke in English and Punjabi, but now only answers by nodding yes or saying "no" in Punjabi.  Amber is unable to walk.

"Instead of sitting and crying, we are taking all of our energy into her recovery," Singh said.

A lack of program support

Singh says the family spends close to $800 per week on physiotherapy and speech therapy appointments, as he's been told by doctors that the first year is when Amber has the highest chance of recovery.

Amber received two hour-long sessions from the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital's outpatient services in the summer, but Singh says he needs more help.

He says his application for support from Alberta's Family Support for Children with Disabilities program was denied. 

He says his requests for support are referred elsewhere and the cycle is never-ending.

Ramamdeep Singh, Amber Athwal's father, says he's frustrated with the lack of support for Amber's therapy. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

On Friday,  Alberta Health released a statement in response to Singh's comments, noting it has been in "regular contact" with the family. 

"It is inspiring to see Amber's bravery and her family's commitment to her ongoing recovery. We understand that since Amber returned to her home, the family has continued to work with Amber's physicians and is also accessing community supports for her care," the ministry said in the statement.

"These teams are in the best position to help the Athwals make decisions about Amber's care."

Alberta's Ministry of Community and Social Services also released a statement on Friday: "Amber's parents deserve to receive all the supports they need to help her heal, and to help the entire family recover from this heartbreaking incident."

Alberta's Ministry of Community and Social Services said in the statement that the Family Support for Children with Disabilities program works with families to ensure various supports and services are available, including aide support, respite care and costs associated with medical appointments. 

"We are committed to working with this family, and any family in Alberta, to ensure they get all the supports they need for their children."

In June friends, and supporters raised more than $40,000 for Amber through donations, ticket sales and a silent auction. The money was to help pay for a vehicle that can fit Amber's wheelchair.