Joan Rivers Did Not Wake Up after Low-Risk Surgery – A Timeline of Alleged Mistakes That Led to Her Death

    Joan Rivers had no worries as she enjoyed a meal with a friend before going in for a simple medical procedure. Little did she know that neglect would play a part in her death. Her daughter fought for justice after losing her so suddenly.

    Joan Rivers married her second husband, Edgar Rosenberg, in 1965, and together they welcomed one child, Melissa. The mother-daughter pair mourned his death together when he died in 1987, but the comedian picked herself up and carried on.

    ?On July 2, 2022, an “Our History” documentary told the chilling story of how Rivers finally joined her late husband in the afterlife. At 10:45 p.m. on August 27, 2014, she was having dinner with her friend, Jay Redack, in Midtown Manhattan, New York, when the topic of death came up.

    Edgar Rosenberg and Joan Rivers pose for a portrait in 1987 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

    The standup comedy goddess was in high spirits about her career’s direction. The pair discussed death with Redack. He said he’d leave the star a painting if he died first, while she vowed to leave him her daughter and some of her shoes.

    Rivers also revealed that she had a procedure coming up the following morning to help with the raspiness in her voice but didn’t seem worried about it. The surgery was supposed to be smooth as the actress wasn’t a smoker and only occasionally drank wine.

    She kept healthy by taking minerals and vitamins and was physically fit. Days before checking in for the procedure, the celebrity told a journalist she coughed a lot, and her voice was hoarse.

    Rivers’ voice was everything to her; without it, she couldn’t make a living, and even at 81, her work meant everything to her. However, she suffered fatal complications on the day of her elective operation at Yorkville Endoscopy.

    Days later, on September 4, 2014, the comedian sadly passed away from a lack of oxygen to the brain at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The timeline of what led to Rivers’ death has been outlined below.

    The Detailed Breakdown of What Happened That Caused Joan’s Death?
    Before her procedure, it was revealed that Rivers’ ears, nose, and throat (ENT), Dr. Gwen Korovin, would be in the operating room. Korovin was welcomed by Dr. Lawrence Cohen, Yorkville Endoscopy’s medical director.

    Yorkville Endoscopy, where comedian Joan Rivers' heart stopped during a routine treatment for a vocal problem on August 29, 2014 | Source: Getty Images

    Medical records were reviewed, interviews were done, and documents were compiled to get a clear report of how the comedian died. The report revealed how doctors ultimately “failed to identify deteriorating vital signs and provide timely intervention during the procedure.”

    August 27, 2014 – 8:44 p.m.
    The actress’ pulse was 62, her blood pressure was 118/80, and she had a 100 percent concentration of oxygen (SpO2) in her blood, which was expected. The following morning she was prepared early for her procedure.

    August 28, 2014 – 9:00 a.m. Until 9:04 a.m.
    Nine in the morning was when Rivers’ esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) procedure began. She met Korovin in the procedure room before a “time-out” was called four minutes later. The period saw the technician verifying they had the right person for the proper procedure instead of the anesthesiologist, as hospital policy dictates.

    The star was sedated, and Korovin took the lead by performing a laryngoscopy. The process was stopped when the ENT revealed she couldn’t view what she was trying to see well but went ahead anyway.

    9:12 a.m. Until 9:21 a.m.
    Not long into the procedure, the star’s vital signs began “deviating,” with her blood pressure dropping to 117/60. Rivers’ SpO2 was now 92 percent, and her pulse rose to 71, and at 9:16 a.m., her blood pressure continued dropping, reaching 56.

    Her SpO2 rose to 94 percent, while her pulse dropped to 56. By 9:21 a.m., her pulse was sitting at 54 and continued declining while her blood pressure was now 89/44, with her SpO2 rising to 97 percent.

    9:26 a.m. Until 9:28 a.m.
    The comedian’s vitals continued changing, with her pulse dropping to 47, her blood pressure at 84/40, and her SpO2 going below average at 92 percent. Two minutes later, the EGD procedure was done with Korovin using the laryngoscope to go in for one or two minutes.

    Cohen and the anesthesiologist allegedly had no objections to the ENT doing the laryngoscopy. Investigators later revealed that the procedure note hadn’t recorded all the people involved in the surgery, and each person’s role wasn’t clear to everyone.

    Procedures that had to be performed weren’t verified beforehand, and only some people in the room signed off on the record as per policy rules. The technician revealed that a time out wasn’t announced for the initial nasolaryngoscopy before the EGD was done, nor was the second one after the procedure.

    When Korovin went in the second time, Cohen thought Rivers would want to see her recovery area, so he took a photo of it with a cell phone. The medical director concluded the EGD at 9: 28 a.m., but there were two versions of what happened after.

    First Version: 9:28 a.m. Until 9:38 a.m.
    Korovin tried to do the nasolaryngoscopy again, but the patient went into cardiac arrest, leading to her being given CPR. Her ENT withdrew the laryngoscope two minutes later, and CPR was done again before Korovin removed the scope.

    In March 2016, doctors took responsibility for the comedian’s death…

    At this point, Melissa’s mother had no pulse, her blood pressure was 85/49, and SpO2 was 92 percent. At 9:38 a.m., epinephrine and atropine were administered. The second version of what happened was completely different.

    Second Version: 9:28 a.m. Until 10:04 a.m.
    The actress still had a pulse but was experiencing a dangerously rapid heartbeat. Epinephrine and atropine were administered immediately, and at 10:00 a.m., she was resuscitated; four minutes later, she was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital before dying a week later at 1:15 p.m.

    After suddenly losing her mother, Melissa lodged a complaint against the New York City clinic. She and Rivers’ family fought to get justice by outlining what the doctors failed to do that day and landed a bittersweet victory.

    What Steps Did Melissa Take After Losing Her Mother
    Yorkville Endoscopy faced a malpractice suit from Melissa in 2015. Her complaint noted that no discussion was made about Korovin performing the transnasal laryngoscopy, and the anesthesiologist, Renuka Bankulla, allegedly questioned the ENT’s authorization in the matter.

    Cohen ignored Bankulla, who struggled to keep Rivers’ SpO2 steady while it dropped during the procedure. The complaint said the comedian’s vitals weren’t monitored adequately as they kept dropping, and Korovin wished to do another laryngoscopy after the EGD.

    Bankulla objected and was called “paranoid.” The ENT proceeded despite the risk of irritation from the medical instruments. Another thing tackled by Melissa was the rumors that doctors took photos of her mother while sedated, including the one Cohen allegedly took.

    After the EGD, the actress’ heart rate slowed down precariously, and doctors saw that her oxygen levels were dropping, but no one acted. Cohen eventually reacted, expecting Korovin to save Rivers, but the ENT had already left.

    Only twelve minutes after her vitals dropped was 911 called for an ambulance. Melissa believed none of those present had the training or knowledge to “handle the medical emergency.” Due to this, Yorkville Endoscopy was set to lose its federal accreditation.

    In March 2016, doctors took responsibility for the comedian’s death, and a “substantial” settlement was reached, but the amount wasn’t revealed. Cohen was fired as the medical director who prevented Rivers from having a chance of turning 90 in June 2023.

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