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Carol Pitassi

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Carol's Story-

My name is Carol Pitassi. Tuesday, March 7, 1961 started out like any other day for me as a little girl. I got up, got washed and dressed, and got ready to go to school. I knew that my dad was in the hospital having minor surgery that day. No one was really concerned because it was only going to be exploratory surgery for a minor problem. My mom had already undergone a much more serious surgery (open heart surgery) when I was only 8 months old. So it was my mom who was sick, not my dad. My dad was strong! He was only 43 years old! He was a carpenter/building contractor.   Little did I know that that day would be such an eventful day for my entire family; not only then, but for years thereafter.

When I came home from school that day, I had learned that my father had died during surgery, and no one was certain why. How could this be? He was not sick! My mother told my sister and me that the doctor had told her that my dad’s insides appeared to have aged faster than normal for a man of his age (I guess they were attributing his death to arteriosclerosis). I grew up believing that, and it almost cost me my own life in 1989. No one had realized that he had died because of Malignant Hyperthermia.

No one knew about malignant hyperthermia in 1961 in Rhode Island, or anywhere else in the United States for that matter. However, I learned much later that, coincidentally, it was in 1961 (the same year as my father’s death) that Dr. Michael Denborough, one of the two doctors, who described a young man in Melbourne, Australia with a fractured tibia who was more concerned about receiving general anesthesia than he was about his fractured leg. His concern was that ten of his family members had developed uncontrolled hyperthermia and death during general anesthesia with Ether.

Fast forward 28 years to the year 1989. I was married and the mother of two young children. I was about to undergo a hysterectomy operation. I was still not aware of Malignant Hyperthermia because no one….no doctor, no family member, no hospital knew about or asked the question as to whether anyone in my family had ever died while undergoing surgery.

I arrived at the hospital and was given anesthesia. My surgery was proceeding well until the nurse anesthetist noticed that there was an increase in my end-tidal CO2 and that my temperature was going up. They immediately stopped the surgery (thankfully, the event happened at the end of the surgery). They began to administer dantrolene sodium intravenously and attempted to control my body temperature. Everyone needed to work quickly and mix the solution to save my life. (It was interesting that the priest at our parish was the hospital chaplain at the time, and he said that I was certainly a celebrity at the time of my episode because all the medical personnel were talking about the event the following day). I was told later that they had to get the second half of the needed dosage of dantrolene sodium from Rhode Island Hospital, which was right next door, as the hospital where the surgery was being performed only carried half of the supply needed.

My physician left the operating room after the procedure to speak with my husband. My husband stated that the doctor told him that everything was okay at that point and that I would be okay. However, they were not going to move me as they wanted to keep me in recovery to keep watch because they believed I had an MH episode. The doctor then asked my husband if anyone in my family ever had problems with anesthesia. My husband said no, but he did tell the doctor that my father died on the operating room table when I was only 9 years old. The doctor requested that my husband get the hospital medical records as well as the autopsy records for my father.

My husband and I obtained my dad’s medical and autopsy records. We found that my dad had been given Ether and Succinylcholine during his surgery. The medical report actually stated that his heart started to act “bizarre” so they administered more Succinylcholine. Hence, in their attempt to rescue him, they actually killed him because no one was aware of Malignant Hyperthermia and the effect of Ether and Succinylcholine on an MH susceptible patient at that time. Remember, Dr. Michael Denborough and his colleague were in Australia and this was Rhode Island in 1961! They were on the other side of the world! There was no internet! No way of getting funds from the Federal Government for research on diseases that are not well known so that doctors would be informed.

Today, I have a husband and two beautiful daughters. We also have an extended family that includes my sons- in-law and our beautiful grandchildren. My daughters are keenly aware of this story and any time they have entered a hospital for any type of surgery they tell the anesthesiologist the story about their mother and their grandfather.

May my life story be helpful in spreading the word of this uncommon disorder so that lives can possibly be saved when doctors encounter an MH episode. 


As told by Carol Pitassi

Views and opinions expressed on this page are only those of the individual telling their story. MHAUS has not clinically vetted the content. 

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