(KUTV) - Jared Wakefield was a 22 year old student at Utah Valley University with the dream of becoming a youth therapist.
He told his brother Robert that he was inspired to become a therapist after an experience helping a friend overcome suicidal thoughts.
“He was at the point where he’s starting to get life figured out, he knew where he wanted to go and now it was a matter of getting there,” Robert said.
But Jared’s pursuit of helping others as a therapist was cut short after a trip to the dentist turned deadly.
“You’ve never even heard of something like this happening, so for it to go from ‘hey he’s in a dental procedure’ to ‘hey, he’s dead’, it’s like no, that can’t happen,” Robert said.
Jared had gone to Dr. Dennis Blume for a tooth extraction at the Smile Center dental clinic in Provo on June 3, 2014.
At some point during the procedure, a piece of gauze went down Jared’s throat and he began choking.
State investigative documents say Dr. Blume tried unsuccessfully to clear Jared’s airway. Dental staff contacted 9-1-1 who dispatched paramedics to the dental clinic.
By the time he arrived at Utah Valley Hospital, he was on the brink of death.
“We knew the likelihood of him being okay was like one-in-a-million. He had gone 37 minutes from the time he stopped breathing to the time they got his heart going again,” Robert said.
After an agonizing two days, doctors declared Jared brain dead and his family instructed the medical staff to prepare his organs for donation.
“It was just kind of shock,” Robert said. “It was just kind of an emptiness you know.”
Still in shock, the Wakefield family buried Jared.
Robert then began looking into deaths similar to his brother’s
“I thought it was a freak thing when he died, and then to dig in and do some research and to be like, oh my gosh, this is super common,” Robert said.
But how common are deaths at dental office? The numbers can be very illusive.
“Nobody is tracking it, here in Utah it’s not tracked,” Robert said.
The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing oversees more than 4,000 licensed Utah dentists.
Dentists are required to report any incidents of injury or death to DOPL within 30 days.
In response to a public records request from 2NEWS, DOPL administrators said they do not maintain statistics of how many reports the agency has received.
A DOPL spokesperson told 2NEWS the agency is not legally required to maintain such statistics, and pointed to disciplinary newsletters which are released every month – where individuals can see licensed professionals whose licenses have been subject to disciplinary action.
A review of dentist discipline records from 2016 found five dentists have been disciplined by DOPL, including Dr. Blume, who was given a $2,500 fine, required to attend an emergency medicine class, banned from performing procedures with general anesthesia, and given a public reprimand on his license.
DOPL said Blume engaged in ‘unprofessional conduct’ during the procedure that preceded Jared Wakefield’s death.
In administrative charging documents, state investigators say Blume and dental anesthesiologist Dr. David A. Gutzman did not meet the “standard of care” in how they carried out Jared’s procedure.
State investigators said Blume failed to count the number of gauze pieces placed in Jared’s mouth, and did not attach string to the pieces of gauze in the back of the mouth which could have been removed when Jared began choking.
DOPL said Blume “Practiced or attempted to practice dentistry through gross incompetence, gross negligence, or a pattern of incompetency or negligence.”
Dr. Blume’s attorney, Terry Rooney, told 2NEWS in a statement that Dr. Blume believes his care was “appropriate in all respects and has believed so from the outset.”
Rooney declined to go on camera due to a pending civil case, but said Dr. Blume acknowledged the case was ‘tragic.’
Robert Wakefield, meanwhile, wants greater accountability for dentists, and greater awareness of the potential danger during dental procedures.
“You assume they’re all held to a certain level of care and you’re safe wherever you go,” Robert said. “If you’re a parent and you’ve got a 3-year-old kid and something like this had happened, you would want to know about it.”
The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing maintains a website where you can check to see if your dentist has been disciplined by the state. http://www.dopl.utah.gov/orders/index.html
DOPL currently has a pending case against Dr. Gutzman, who assited Dr. Blume in Jared Wakefield’s procedure.