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Girl who nearly died warns narcotics, opioids pose dangers

UINTAH COUNTY — An eastern Utah teen is warning people about the potentially dangerous side effects of opioids and other narcotics after she nearly died taking the medications as prescribed.

Amanda Thompson was 15 on December 28, 2016, when she got her tonsils out. At 4 a.m. on December 30, she was no longer breathing.

“My parents saw that I was blue and I was gone, basically,” she said.

Her mother Janet Thompson was right next to her but had drifted off to sleep.

“I believe I was supposed to wake up for a reason,” said Janet.

The Thompsons started CPR. Paramedics came, and it took several doses of Narcan to bring her back.

“We had her, and then she was gone again. She basically died twice,” said Janet.

Amanda had taken a prescription narcotic as outlined by her doctor, Dr. Michael Catten, but he had her do one more thing. Dr. Catten sent Amanda home with a pulse oximeter, a device doctor’s offices and hospitals use to measure the oxygen in a patient’s blood. That’s because of something that had happened to a previous patient named Parker Stewart. He was 21 years old when he died right after a tonsillectomy, and the autopsy said he died of respiratory depression.

So Dr. Catten looked into it further.

“The problem with narcotics, is it stunts their desire to breathe. It helps with the pain, but a person doesn’t feel the urge to breathe,” he explained.

Amanda says she was told at the hospital that her lungs were trying to get air but could not. ‘They sucked in liquid instead, and it gave me aspirated pneumonia,” she said.

The pulse oximeter alerted Amanda’s parents that something was wrong.  Dr. Catten now sends the devices home with every post-operative patient he sees at  Ashley Regional Medical Center and Uintah Basin Medical Center. He believes the system failed. He says he had no idea he had been sending people home with a medicine that was killing them when they took it exactly as prescribed.

Now there’s Parker’s Bill, and Amanda and Dr. Catten were there when the governor signed it.

The Governor signs SCR4
(Utah Governor’s Office) Dr Catten is fourth from left; Amanda Thompson is third from right

SCR4 calls for studying this link between the pain pills and respiratory depression. It also urges doctors to send patients home with pulse oximeters. Dr. Catten says those can be cheap fingertip ones or newer technology that alerts you through a phone app.

Janet and Eric Thompson say when they got their tonsils out years ago, ice cream and Tylenol worked just fine. They feel like they will never use opiates again. In fact, when their son had a root canal, the office offered a narcotic for pain and they said no, they would use Ibuprofen instead.

Amanda is now 16, but still suffers migraines and headaches from her brain going without oxygen for that time, though she says it is getting better.  She is planning to be a pediatric surgeon, and works sometimes with Dr. Catten.

“I hope people stop taking opiates, or at least have some more caution. I just hope to warn people, because this was a hard thing to go through, and people don’t realize that,” said Amanda. “I don’t want others to go through what I have gone through.”

 

“Her story is instrumental because she can speak to it,” said Dr. Catten. “Parker is not alive to tell his story.”

Janet says she is just so grateful that Amanda is alive today.

“She’s our baby, and I don’t know what we would do without her,” she said.