CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) - A trip to the dentist can evoke pain, anxiety or fear. Those feelings generally subside once your appointment is over. But for one Chesapeake family the pain will never end. It's been five years since their traumatic visit.
Today, they want to challenge parents; they want them to question their child's dentist.
On March 9, 2007, the Blanco family took their 8-year-old daughter Raven in for a simple procedure. She would be sedated, worked on, then awakened from her sleep.
But Raven never woke up.
Raven's father, Mario Blanco, often visits Norfolk's Forest Lawn Cemetery ; that's where Raven is buried. He brings a chair and sits a few steps from her headstone. It's time alone with his eldest daughter. He opens up to her.
"I don't hear her talk back, but I feel her presence," Mario said.
There is a picture of her at the burial site and Mario meditates on her sweet smile. The same smile still fills the Blanco's Chesapeake home. There are family pictures in every room.
Raven's mother, Robin Blanco, still finds her young daughter's death hard to accept.
"For me, the longer the time goes by, you learn to cope with it. But the longer the time goes by, I miss her more," Robin said, her voice cracking.
Raven was sedated for a routine dental procedure. While getting the work done, complications arose and her heart stopped. Robin watched as staff members performed CPR on her little girl. Crews rushed the child from the dental office to the hospital emergency room.
"I remember a doctor coming out and telling... you know, that they've done all that they can do," Robin continued tearfully. "And did I want to see her - you know I just couldn't believe it. And I said, 'Yes I want to see her. I want to see her.' I just couldn't believe it. And she was gone."
In Raven's memory, the family started The Raven Maria Blanco Foundation, Inc. They follow and share the stories of other children who've died following complications at the dentist.
By their count, 11 have lost their lives in the past year.
Today they're on a mission to educate parents and they want dentists to be prepared. Raven's cousin, Nicole Cunha, is spearheading those efforts.
"People have to go to the dentist, people have to have these things done, there are children with anxiety that have to be sedated, they have to have the work done on them, so no you can't take that away, you have to know what to do if something goes wrong," Cunha said.
Virginia Beach Oral Surgeon Dr. Scott Goodove puts into practice what Raven's foundation wants in every dental office. He told us, "If we have an emergency, our assistants are prepared. They have stations to take if we have an emergency from the back to the front."
Each morning he holds a staff meeting and goes through the patient list. They discuss any medical complications that could arise.
Dr. Goodove sedates hundreds of patients each year. That's far more than a general dentist. But he points out that oral surgeons also undergo years of specialty training. His advice for any dental office, whether they sedate or not, be ready for a worst-case scenario.
"What we have here is sort of a more organized central emergency station.... (Our) patients walk in, they feel comfortable, 'Hey ... these guys are prepared.'"
In a corner of his office he has an automated external defibrillator (AED), a tank of oxygen, a range of medications and drugs. There's also an emergency response guide.
"It's as simple as picking the emergency - someone passes out - and it will give you the step-by-step guide. But you don't want someone reading this for the first time during the emergency itself, so you run through these drills."
And Dr. Goodove holds mock drills every month. For general dentists, not doing deep sedation procedures Virginia dental regulations don't go nearly that far. That's where the Blanco's want the public to help.
"If we get a group of the whole country coming together, and demanding these things, you'll see a big change," Mario said. Mario eventually wants to see these preparedness practices become law - Raven's law - as he sees it.
Meantime, much of his time is spent sitting across from Raven burial site, as they keep each other company. Her epitaph reads: "'The most beautiful girl in the world a beloved daughter and sister who is missed and loved so much. One day we will all be together again....' And we will."
Raven's parents want you to ask certain questions before you make a dentist appointment for your child. Click here for a list of those six questions.
Click here to watch the portion of our interview in which the Blanco's discuss taking their other children to the dentist for the first time, following Raven's death.
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