Joan Rivers was a comedian and Hollywood icon with a career that spanned more than 60 years. She was most well known during recent years as the co-host of Fashion Police on E! where she and various panelists critiqued and praised the fashion celebrities wore at award shows and other star-studded events. Rivers unexpectedly died at the age of 81 on September 4, 2014 while undergoing what was supposed to be a routine endoscopy.
An endoscopy is a "nonsurgical procedure used to examine a person's digestive tract." The doctor uses an endoscope which is a "flexible tube with a light and camera attached to it." With this device "your doctor can view pictures of your digestive tract on a color TV monitor." Rivers was undergoing the procedure because she had a hoarse throat. She had the procedure done on August 28, 2014 at Yorkville Endoscopy, which is located in New York City. Rivers stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest during the procedure. She was taken to the hospital and kept on life support for a week before Rivers' family made the difficult decision to take her off of it.
An autopsy was conducted by the New York medical examiner's office. The cause of death was reported to be ""anoxic encephalopathy due to hypoxic arrest." This means that she suffered "brain damage due to [a] lack of oxygen." According to CNN, the medical examiner classified Rivers' death as a "therapeutic complication." The report stated that this meant that "the death resulted from a predictable complication of medical therapy."
About a year after her mother's death Melissa Rivers filed a lawsuit against the clinic and several doctors alleging medical malpractice. According to the suit, the anesthesiologist who was present during the procedure had warned the doctors that "Ms. Rivers's vocal cords were extremely swollen, and that they could seize up." Her concerns were dismissed as paranoid, but Joan Rivers' cords did swell shortly thereafter blocking her oxygen flow. No emergency cricothyrotomy was performed because the doctor who could perform it allegedly left after the procedure went awry, and no crash cart was ordered. NBC 4 in New York reported that in addition to stating that the doctors' "mishandled the endoscopy," the lawsuit also states that one of the doctor's "performed another medical procedure called a laryngoscopy on her vocal cords without consent."
A federal investigation of the clinic was conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. The investigation found the clinic "made several errors, including failing to keep proper medication records and snapping cellphone photos of Rivers while she was unconscious." In addition to these errors, NBC 4 stated, the clinic also "failed to get informed consent for every procedure performed and failed to record Rivers' weight before the administration of sedation medication." The medical director of the clinic who performed Rivers' endoscopy stepped down shortly after Rivers' passed away.
The medical malpractice lawsuit settled in May 2016 for an undisclosed amount.