A simple toothache turned deadly last week for a long-haul trucker from Sacramento, and now his family is trying to raise money to bring his body back home.
Vadim Anatoliyevich Kondratyuk was just 26 and had two young children. He was driving a truck route from Truckee to New York last Tuesday when he started to feel pain in the lower left side of his mouth, said his wife, Nataliya Kondratyuk. He pulled over in Oklahoma to see a dentist, who diagnosed an infection and prescribed antibiotics.
The pain subsided at first but then worsened, and Vadim Kondratyuk called his wife several times while driving to complain about the tooth. He made his delivery in New York, but his mouth was uncomfortably swollen and he couldn’t make the long drive home alone. His brother flew to New York to escort him back to Antelope where Nataliya, 22, was anxiously waiting with their 2-year-old and their 11-month-old.
On the way, Kondratyuk’s breathing became labored and he grew pale, Nataliya said. His brother rushed him to a Utah hospital, where he was placed on oxygen and then flown to a larger facility in Salt Lake City. Doctors there prescribed stronger antibiotics and put him on dialysis, but the tooth infection had spread to his blood and lungs, she said. She flew to his bedside and was able to say goodbye before he died on Monday morning.
On Tuesday, Nataliya donned a black dress and grieved in her parents’ Antelope home, where extended family gathered to support the young widow and help her plan a weekend memorial service.
“They had him on medication, they tried everything they could,” Nataliya Kondratyuk said. “We prayed for him that day, that night, hoping he was going to survive. But God has his plan, and we had a talk with the doctors and they told us how this all happened. … It was just not healing how it was supposed to. It was just getting worse.”
Tooth infections typically occur when food gets trapped between the tooth and the gum, fostering bacteria that enters the tooth through a cavity or crack. If untreated, the infection can cause painful inflammation at the root of the tooth and then spread to the head and neck, said Dr. John Luther, chief dental officer for Western Dental. In rare cases, the infection spreads to the bloodstream, which can damage multiple organ systems and result in death.
“These bacteria break down food products in the mouth on the teeth and produce acids,” Luther said. “Those acids destroy the hard enamel covering of the teeth. Once that enamel is destroyed, those bacteria move into the softer portion of the teeth and ultimately into a nerve chamber, which also contains blood vessels.”
Luther cited the 2007 case of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Maryland boy whose family couldn’t afford dental coverage. What he thought was just a toothache was actually a severe infection that later traveled to his brain and killed him. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Endodontics looked at 61,000 hospitalizations for abscesses between 2000 and 2008, and found that 66 of those patients – or roughly one in 1,000 – died from the infection.
Tooth decay can be easily prevented with regular brushing and flossing, especially after eating sugary foods, Luther said. When people feel throbbing pain in a tooth they should seek care as soon as possible so a dentist can clean and fill the cavity or remove the tooth if necessary, he said. If someone has a fever or is having trouble breathing, they should seek urgent care.
Vadim Kondratyuk was always healthy, though doctors in Utah diagnosed him with diabetes, Nataliya said. He had insurance and had visited the dentist recently to have a cavity filled on a different tooth than the one that caused the severe infection, she said. The pain in his mouth seemed manageable when Vadim and his brother left New York, so they decided to switch off driving so he could get home. They didn’t know how suddenly his condition would worsen until he started having trouble breathing in Utah.
“I was waiting for that moment when he would come home and I thought I might take him straight to the emergency,” she said. “He didn’t even make it home to me.”
Vadim and Nataliya, both born in Ukraine but raised in California, met as teenagers at the Christian church their families both attended. They got married in 2012 and had their two daughters, whom Vadim loved spending time with between truck routes, his wife said. When possible, Nataliya and the girls traveled with Vadim or went to the auto shop to spend time with him while his truck underwent repairs.
The Kondratyuk family has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for taking Vadim’s body from Utah back to Antelope, where memorial services will be held. The funds will also support Nataliya Kondratyuk, who is not currently employed.
“He was a great husband,” she said. “He had this smile on all the time. We had a great four years together.”