Caleb’s Law: Step One Change-Makers in Action

Caleb Sears

After the tragic death of Caleb Sears in March 2015 as a result of unsafe dental anesthesia, his aunt Annie Kaplan, his parents Eliza and Tim Sears, and a team of family and friends took on the cause of saving other children from these preventable deaths. Caleb’s Law, AB 2235, is now in effect as of January 1st, 2017, thanks to their fight. Caleb was a beloved member of our Step One community, as are his sister and cousins, and Step One is proud  to be associated with this team of change-makers and their life-saving work. Our interview with Annie Kaplan is below : more on Caleb’s Law and his story here.

Congratulations on the passage of Caleb’s Law. Can you give us some background on this fight and how you got involved?

When Caleb passed away, our family wanted to understand what happened. I was a general surgery resident so I looked at the medical records. I saw that the procedures used in the dental office were below the standard of care in other medical fields.

The personnel giving anesthesia in dentists’ offices have limited training. Pediatric dentists train for one month, versus years for an anesthesiologist. Dentists and oral surgeons can also administer anesthesia alone: in a hospital there’s always a second person monitoring. We realized that the problem was nation-wide. People were dying; four children died in California in 2015 because of this. We had to try to change that.

How did you move forward with an approach? And how has Caleb’s Law evolved?

The Step One community has been part of this from the beginning. Kavita Trivedi, a physician and Step One parent, was helping. Her husband Sanjay Ranchod (on the Step One board) knows the political process. He said, let’s write a law. We approached Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, whose children are also Step One alums, and he sponsored it.

At first we attempted to legislate a separate anesthesia provider, but the California dentists’ lobby is powerful and they were able to stop it. We instead passed a version that focuses on gathering information and bringing it into the light.

We’re definitely celebrating that success. It’s been hard to advocate for solutions with no data. Now, all that information will be studied, and dental professionals will have to explain the risks to families. Caleb’s Law has also put a spotlight on the issue in a way that’s leading to change. California’s Dental Board put together an investigation and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists has convened a task force. Many dentists and oral surgeons want to do the right thing, and Caleb’s Law makes it easier for those within the profession to agitate for change.

And, we’ll be back. We’re not done with this fight.

What does the future hold for you? And, what have you learned about creating change through your time working on Caleb’s Law?

Now that I’ve gotten a taste of advocacy, I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop. I would like to combine advocacy with clinical medicine. I think I’ll be a better advocate if I’m in the trenches seeing patients and passionate about what I’m advocating for.

I’ve learned that making change is possible. You have to scream really loud, even when no one seems to listen. It’s hard work, but possible. Also, no one can make change alone. You need a community behind you. During this whole process, when I’ve reached out for help, when our family has reached out, the Step One community has been there.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to take a loss that’s completely terrible, the worst thing in the world, and to build a change from it that can make a difference. There’s a family in Virginia whose child died in a dental procedure. They tried to fight this nine years ago, and the dental lobby shut their effort down. Caleb’s Law is for them, too, and for children in California and eventually around the country.