By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
After a sleepless night, Dr. Mark Sklansky had to make a hard call.
A day earlier, perhaps a bit caught up in the excitement of the moment, Sklansky had decided to immediately go forward with open heart surgery for Davik Teng, a 9-year-old girl from a remote village in Cambodia brought to the U.S. for life-altering surgery.
In the sobering light of new information and with time to consider the options, Sklansky realized he really needed to take the more cautious route.
Because of extensive dental disease that could lead to heart infection, Sklansky decided it was more prudent to have a dentist treat Davik's dental issues before performing the heart procedure.
That means Davik, who suffers from a ventricular septal defect, must wait between two and four weeks before having the surgery she and her mom, Sin Chhon, have so eagerly awaited.
"I was really stressed trying to do the right thing," Sklansky said. "I decided the safest way to take care of Davik was to take the more traditional route and the more standard care."
On Tuesday, Davik will receive dental care from Dr. Jose Poledo at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, which agreed to pay for the procedure.
Sklansky said the decision to delay the heart surgery was not only difficult emotionally but medically as well.
"There's risk either way," Sklansky said.
"We had momentum going and everyone was excited," Sklansky said. "It would be nice to close the defect in her heart, but on the other hand this is probably the safer approach."
Sklansky said because the mouth always has extensive bacteria, the fear is that the bacteria could enter the blood stream and infect the surgical patch used to close the defect in Davik's heart.
However, by waiting there is an ongoing risk for heart infection that could strike at any time. Also, by waiting, the chances that Davik could contract some other ailment from her new surroundings increase. That could complicate matters.
Peter Chhun, executive director for Long Beach-based Hearts Without Boundaries, which is sponsoring Davik's trip, said the news was particularly hard on Chhon.
Over the years, Chhon and her daughter have been turned away three times in efforts to have Davik's heart repaired. Their biggest fear is that they will have traveled this far only to be denied yet again.
"As I've said all along `Who would want to wait?"' Chhun said. "But I think this decision is correct. Why take added risk? I think this story takes its own course."