Edmonton dentist admits to several charges connected to Amber Athwal case

Click to play video: 'Dentist’s disciplinary hearing related to Amber Athwal case gets underway'
Dentist’s disciplinary hearing related to Amber Athwal case gets underway
WATCH ABOVE: A disciplinary hearing got underway on Monday to look into the case of Amber Athwal, a young Edmonton girl who ended up in hospital after being sedated by a dentist. Kendra Slugoski reports – Oct 16, 2017

An Edmonton dentist admitted to three charges in connection with an incident that left a young patient with brain damage after being sedated.

During the first day of an Alberta Dental Association and College disciplinary hearing looking into the case of Amber Athwal, Dr. William Mather admitted to failing to create and keep sufficient records, over-billing three patients, and failing to have proper sterilization prevention.

Mather is facing five charges related to unprofessional conduct involving eight patients, including Amber.

Athwal was four years old when she was rushed to the Stollery Children’s Hospital after undergoing a dental procedure at Mather’s downtown office in September 2016. She went from being a healthy, functional child to being unable to talk, walk or recognize her parents.

READ MORE: Family of brain-damaged Edmonton girl suing dentist for $26.5M 

In February, the Athwal family filed a lawsuit against Mather and eight members of his staff for $26.5 million in damages.

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Mather has alleged any injuries Athwal sustained after being put under general anaesthesia occurred because the family didn’t disclose the child’s full medical history or exactly what she ate and drank before the procedure.

READ MORE: Alberta dentists no longer allowed single operator sedation

On Monday morning, investigators said Mather’s records were far from adequate. The complaints director, who called the incident “extremely serious” and “a very serious breakdown of protocol and procedures in Dr. Mather’s officer” said there was evidence Amber’s record was altered.

Dr. William Mather during a disciplinary hearing on Oct. 16, 2017. Kendra Slugoski, Global News
Dr. William Mather during a disciplinary hearing on Oct. 16, 2017. Kendra Slugoski, Global News

The tribunal also heard that the now-retired dentist allegedly continued to treat patients on the same day as Amber’s incident and performed general anaesthetic on other children in the days after. During the first day of the hearing, investigators also said Mather represented himself as a specialist when he was a general dentist.

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Mather admitted he failed to report the incident to the Alberta Dental Association and College within the mandated one-day period.

Mather’s lawyer spoke briefly and said that day — Sept. 7, 2016 — was a day that changed the lives of many people and had a significant and permanent impact on Mather and his staff.

She said Mather made every effort to provide emergency care to the little girl.

Mather’s lawyer also said the restrictions the dental association put on his practice following the incident effectively ended his 43-year career.

Mather, who is facing five charges related to unprofessional conduct, retired from dentistry in early October.

Amber, who is now five and a half years old, was released from the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in January. Raman Athwal, Amber’s father, said while she is now able to hold her own head up and chew food, she still can’t do things like sit or stand independently.

READ MORE: Dentist, nurse respond to $26M Amber Athwal lawsuit, allege pre-existing condition


Amber Athwal is seen with her father, Raman Athwal, on Oct. 14, 2017. Kim Smith / Global News

Raman testified Monday morning. He choked up and wiped away tears as he told the hearing panel about his daughter before the dental surgery.

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“She was a normal healthy child.

“She used to say, ‘Papa, I’m very intelligent. I know three languages.'”

Raman told the tribunal that his daughter was referred to a specialist because of the amount of dental work that needed to be done at one time. That dentist referred the family to Mather.

“He said, ‘He’s one of the best in town.'”

The morning of her appointment, Raman said Amber was wearing a beautiful dress in anticipation of her first day of Kindergarten. He said Amber was supposed to go in for an exam that morning, but was later scheduled for a procedure after Mather’s office had a cancellation.

Athwal said he told the dentist that Amber had bread, butter and milk for breakfast and asked if he needed to know exact amounts.

“No, no. Don’t worry about it,” Raman said was Mather’s response.

Raman said at no time did Mather tell him about the risks of anaesthesia if Amber had eaten.

Raman recounted the traumatic moments after he learned Amber was being rushed to the hospital. The procedure was supposed to take an hour, but soon after he was taken from the waiting room to a staff lunch room.

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He was told there were complications with Amber’s breathing and the paramedics had been called. He was told his daughter was fine. It was only when he saw Amber on a stretcher in the elevator with paramedics that he realized she wasn’t breathing.

Twenty days in the hospital has passed before Amber opened her eyes.

After his testimony, Raman learned Mather had now retired.

Members of Mather’s staff were also scheduled to testify before the tribunal on Monday.

Shortly after the incident, neither of Amber’s parents was working in order to take care of their daughter.

Raman said now he and Amber’s mother take turns between who goes to work and who stays home to take care of her.

A disciplinary hearing is not a court of law. However, if the panel finds Mather guilty of unprofessional conduct, he could face sanctions.

— With files from Kendra Slugoski

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