Expert insight on death of Joan Rivers

October 24, 2014

Last week’s announcement of the official cause of Joan Rivers’ death continues to raise questions about what went wrong during procedures that are performed several times a day in clinics all across the country – a laryngoscopy, an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and a vocal cord biopsy.

“What is important for people to understand is that when done in the proper manner, these procedures are completely safe, said Dr. Sunil P. Verma, director of the UCI Health Voice & Swallowing Center.

A laryngoscopy is an examination of the throat, voice box and vocal cords, and an upper GI allows the doctor to view the esophagus, stomach and upper part of the small intestine. A vocal cord biopsy is performed to collect tissue samples to find the cause of hoarseness, breathing problems, throat pain and other conditions, or to confirm cancer.

“These were routine, very reasonable procedures,” Verma said. “I perform vocal cord biopsies all the time, and hundreds of gastrointestinal endoscopies are performed at UCI Health every month, to the highest standard of care.”

No matter how minor the procedure might seem, Verma says that if sedation or anesthesiology is involved, “we make sure our patients know how the procedure is going to be performed, what medications and equipment will be used, what other medical staff will be present during the procedure and what safety protocols are in place in case something unexpected does happen.”