WEST ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Since their son passed away from complications after gallbladder surgery in April of 2014, the Bougie family has been on a mission to prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else.
Now they're getting help from a national expert who says the condition that killed their son is more common than most people think.
"In some ways it feels like it was yesterday," Gary Bougie Sr. said of his son's death. "It feels surreal, like it was a dream. We are going to wake up and it was a bad dream."
"The emotional impact of losing my son cannot be put into words. It's a club no one should belong to, and if you are not a part of that club you cannot understand it," Bougie Sr. said.
He says the 35-year-old restaurateur, husband and father of three died at United Hospital from a condition called "Opioid Induced Respiratory Depression," meaning the mix of pain meds he was on caused him to go into such a deep sleep, he stopped breathing.
Bougie's wife recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital, claiming it failed to monitor Bougie properly, considering several risk factors he had like sleep apnea, snoring and being overweight.
"I think its a pretty serious problem because it can affect anyone who goes to the hospital and gets opioids for pain management." Dr. Carla Junquist of the University at Buffalo said.
Dr. Junquist says about one percent of hospital patients who get an opioid IV suffer from Opioid Induced Respiratory Depression, and about half the time they are harmed or die.
She also says less than half of hospitals nationwide monitor opioid patients consistent with industry standards and only about a third monitor their oxygen level continuously using a fingertip sensor which she believes would eliminate thousands of deaths every year.
"Ultimately I want someone to put me out of a job in talking about this. I want it to absolutely stop," Dr. Junquist said.
He says holding the medical community accountable would be the best way to create a lasting legacy for his son.
"It's a problem and it's bigger than we think. But it's not that difficult to fix," Bougie Sr. said.
Dr. Junquist leads the national nurses work group that is revising the monitoring guidelines for Opioid Induced Respiratory Depression.
They are expecting to put out new guidelines next year.