But Dr. Mark Schlesinger, chair of anesthesiology at Hackensack University Medical Center, said that PCA pumps are a safe way to relieve different types of pain, including pain after surgery and cancer-related pain. The problem, he said, is less a result of inadequate monitoring and more a result of medical errors.
"If things go wrong, it could be due to errors, such as loading the pump with the wrong concentration of drug, programming the pump incorrectly or even incorrect prescribing." He said he is not aware of many deaths linked to PCA pumps.
Newer pumps are safer, he said, and many are designed in ways that prevent administration of an incorrect dose.
He agreed that continuous oxygen level monitoring could add an additional layer of safety.
"It's always a great thing for patients who could have respiratory depression to have pulse oximetry to monitor oxygen concentration in the blood," he said.
And there will be signals if a patient is in trouble.
"There are telltale signs of a patient who is overnarcotized," said Overdyk. "There will be sleepiness, grogginess, snoring if the patient is sleeping and the patient may startle awake."
The Abbiehls encourage patients and their families to ask how the pumps work and what sort of monitoring is taking place.
Amanda's death was entirely preventable, they said, and they want to spare other families the grief they felt.
"Maybe if she had been on a monitor, she would still be here with us today," Brian said.