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Colorado Prisoner Sues Over Prison Officials' Failure to Treat Dental Infection

A Colorado state prisoner filed a federal civil rights action in September 2014, alleging denial of medical care for a dental infection that nearly killed him and left him with partial paralysis of his tongue and a resulting severe speech impediment.

According to court documents, Christopher Tantlinger, 32, was a prisoner at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, Colorado in September 2012, when he started having a severe toothache. A prison dentist extracted Tantlinger's wisdom teeth, but failed to give him any antibiotics. Tantlinger developed an infection which caused him great pain.

The day after the extraction, Tantlinger complained of pain of ten on a one-to-ten scale for which he was only given ibuprofen. His pleas for medical attention were ignored even as his condition worsened, with swelling of his lower face and neck, body temperature over 100 degrees and elevated blood pressure--obvious signs of infection.

Four days after the surgery, Tantlinger was unable to drink, eat, swallow or breathe properly, was expectorating blood-tinged phlegm and couldn't open his mouth for an examination. He was taken to a hospital and given pain medications, but returned to the prison after hospital personnel gave the guards instructions to bring him back to the hospital if there was any change in his condition. Those instructions were ignored.

The next day, Tantlinger begged a guard to summon medical aid and was told, "I hope you (expletive) die." Tantlinger and his cellmate's repeated requests for guards to summon medical aid were ignored over the following three days as Tantlinger's condition steadily worsened. Near death, Tantlinger was finally transported to a local hospital where he was stabilized and an emergency tracheotomy was performed before he was life-flighted to a Denver hospital.

Tantlinger was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of Ludwig's angina, an infection of the connective tissue of the floor of the mouth caused by untreated dental infection. He had to be fed through a feeding tube which, like the tracheotomy tube, remained in place for another six weeks. He spent over two weeks in the hospital's intensive care unit, unable to swallow and suffering from depression. The infection caused permanent near paralysis of his tongue which severely impairs his speech.

With the assistance of Denver attorney David A. Lane, Tantlinger filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court. The suit alleges violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. See: Tantlinger v. Hanks, U.S.D.C.-D.CO, Case No. 1:14-cv-02503-MT.

Additional source: Denver Post

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Related legal case

Tantlinger v. Hanks