Dentist who left girl with permanent brain damage will help pay costs of investigation, hearing

A now-retired Edmonton dentist whose four-year-old patient suffered permanent brain damage while in his care won't try to reopen his practice.

Police consulting Crown prosecutor to determine if Dr. William Mather should be charged criminally

Amber Athwal, 6, was at Wednesday's sentencing for the dentist who treated her two years ago. (Rod Maldaner/CBC News )

A now-retired Edmonton dentist whose four-year-old patient suffered permanent brain damage while in his care will pay $330,000 to help cover the cost of the investigation and hearing into the incident.

It's the highest penalty ever imposed by the Alberta Dental Association and College.

Edmonton police have reviewed the final report by the college's tribunal hearing, which was released in February, and is now consulting with the Crown prosecutor to determine if Dr. William Mather should be charged criminally, CBC News has learned.  

Mather has also signed a document that promised he will never practice dentistry in Alberta again. 

The sanctions were outlined in a negotiated agreement that was read into the record at a dental college hearing Wednesday and later accepted by the sentencing panel.

Mather was not at the hearing, but his former patient was. 

Amber Athwal sat in a wheelchair next to her mother and father. During breaks, she loudly called out "Mama" and "Daddy," then flashed an impish, toothless grin, her eyes sparkling.

"Amber is always happy," said her father, Ramandeep Singh. "She stays in a happy mood. Even though she's suffered a lot in the last two years."

Ramandeep Singh says he wanted to show the dentist and hearing tribunal "the damage that was done" to his daughter. (Rod Maldaner/CBC News )

Singh said the family thought it was important for Amber to attend Wednesday's hearing. 

"I wasn't aware that Dr. Mather wasn't coming," he said. "So I wanted to show Dr. Mather and the hearing tribunal the damage that was done to Amber, and to our family life."

Singh said he was disappointed Mather was not at the hearing. 

"I think he should have attended this hearing. But maybe he doesn't want to face us. He doesn't want to face Amber. He doesn't want to face the tribunal, the decision, because of the mistakes he did."

The dental appointment that changed everything

In February, Mather was found guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Amber was treated under anesthesia at Mather's office in September 2016, prior to starting her first day of kindergarten.

After her treatment, while the little girl was unconscious, Mather left the surgical suite to see other patients. A registered nurse was in charge of monitoring Amber during the recovery period.

The nurse later testified that she had been carefully monitoring Amber and suddenly noticed she had stopped breathing and that the monitor measuring her blood-oxygen saturation showed no reading. Amber suffered cardiac arrest.

The tribunal was told her brain could have been deprived of oxygen for up to seven minutes.

She was rushed to hospital and immediately put on life support. The little girl spent months in hospital, and has since recovered some use of her arms and legs and some ability to speak.

Mather, who retired in October 2017 at age 68, was charged with five counts of unprofessional conduct and other administrative infractions.

The college held a seven-day tribunal hearing in October and found him guilty or partially guilty on all five main charges.

Dr. William Mather (left) at a disciplinary hearing by the Alberta Dental Association and College in October 2017. (Janice Johnston/CBC)

Among its rulings, the October tribunal found that Mather's response to his patient's cardiac arrest, including his resuscitation effort, was inadequate.

It also ruled that Mather's office did not call 911 quickly enough and did not immediately use an emergency resuscitation cart, and noted staff were not "fully trained or prepared to prevent or deal with Amber's medical emergency."

The girl's family has launched a $26.5-million lawsuit against Mather and the nurse who then worked for him.

Singh said he was satisfied with the sanctions the dental college imposed against Mather. 

"I think the hearing tribunal made it very clear that they took this conduct very seriously," Singh said. "And they want to send a message to the public so that this type of event won't occur again."


Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston