A doctor explains the procedure done to the ailing daughter of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston

By Mary Margaret
February 19, 2015 05:05 PM

As her family members continue their vigil by her bedside, Bobbi Kristina Brown underwent a tracheotomy this week.

The procedure isn’t an indicator of a change in her condition, however. “She is still critical,” a family source told PEOPLE. “We don’t know what the outcome will be. No one is giving up on this kid.”

Internist Dr. Levi Benson breaks down the procedure – and how it could affect the ailing 21-year-old daughter of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston in the future.

“You can’t leave a breathing tube in long-term because it’s an infection risk and can erode through the trachea,” Dr. Benson says. “[The patient’s] condition is the same; a tracheostomy [allows for] another type of breathing tube.”

A tracheotomy and a tracheostomy are fundamentally the same thing, Dr. Benson explains, but a tracheostomy is the technical wording to describe the surgical procedure.

He adds that waiting ten to fourteen days until this next step is taken is standard. “You wait to see if the patient recovers their breathing function and if the patient does not recover, and if you think the patient might need to have a ventilator long-term, then you do the tracheostomy.”

As for the long-term effects the procedure has on patients, a tracheostomy shouldn’t cause permanent damage to the vocal cords, according to Dr. Benson – however, the original breathing tube through the mouth can potentially cause lasting damage.

The tracheostomy “is inserted below the vocal cords,” Dr. Benson explains.

“If the patient does wake up, a valve can be put on the tracheostomy that would allow the patient to talk. Down the road, once the patient is recovered and doesn’t need ventilator support, the tracheostomy can be removed. The hole left from the tracheostomy will heal in time.”

Brown has been hospitalized since Jan. 31, when she was found unresponsive in the bathtub of her Atlanta-area home.

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