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Foreign Objects Left Inside Patient After Surgery
An unacceptable result following surgery is that a foreign object can be left in the patient. The New England Journal of Science estimates that unintentional retained objects may occur in as many as one in 1,000 surgeries. Given that about 20 million Americans undergo surgery each year, this means that as many as 20,000 patients are leaving surgery each year with foreign objects being left in them.
A foreign object being left in a patient is an unacceptable and preventable outcome. When this occurs, this means that doctors or nurses are failing to communicate and making sure that surgical instruments, sponges, needles, pins and clips are removed. The failure to remove these objects can cause patients to require additional surgeries and experience potential complications as a result of the retained object, such as severe infection. Many individuals suffer serious injuries or even death as a result of a foreign object being left in the body.
The most common type of object left in a patient after a surgery is a sponge (Palm Beach Post Article). Sponges are typically used during abdominal surgeries or C-section deliveries. Oftentimes, multiple sponges are used in a patient’s body, and if a proper sponge count is not performed, the sponges can easily be left behind.
Haley G., a 23-year-old mother of one, was pregnant with her second child when during a scheduled obstetric visit at The Medical Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Haley’s doctor recommended that he induce labor and perform delivery via C-section due to high blood pressure, even though Haley was only at 37 weeks gestation. Haley’s daughter was born the following morning, and two days later, both were discharged with instructions to follow-up in one week. A few days after returning home, Haley began to experience severe abdominal pain, night sweats, fever and complications with the C-section site. Haley presented to the emergency room where a CT scan was performed which revealed retained sponges in Haley’s pelvis with significant infectious process. The presence of the sponge in Haley’s pelvis required immediate surgical intervention to remove the sponge. Infectious disease consultants noted abscesses present in the infected area and the presence of Escherichia coli. Haley also received multiple blood transfusions during the surgery. Haley was discharged with prescriptions for strong antibiotics. At her follow-up appointment, Haley was still suffering from complications at the C-section site, and consistent pain. The pain worsened and Haley became feverish so she returned for another follow-up; however, no additional diagnostic procedures were performed at that time. Haley returned again, and diagnostic testing revealed multiple areas of intra-abdominal abscesses, requiring a third surgery. During the surgery, Haley developed respiratory complications. Postoperatively, Haley had to be reintubated after she had already been extubated, and was placed on a ventilator. We represented Haley in her medical malpractice case. The case was mediated pre-suit, but a reasonable offer was not made by the hospital. A lawsuit was filed in Bowling Green, Kentucky, against the doctor who performed Haley’s C-section surgery. The doctor admitted during his deposition that he did not mention the risk of foreign objects being left inside the body while discussing the risk of a C-section surgery with Haley because that is not an accepted or recognized risk of the surgery. Depositions of the risk manager and the nursing staff were taken, which revealed that the surgical technicians were the only ones performing a sponge count during Haley’s C-section. Several months after this lawsuit was filed, a new policy was instituted requiring sponges and laparotomy pads to now have bar codes, requiring the nurses to scan each bar code upon removal. The case was mediated for a second time and reached a confidential settlement a few weeks before trial was to begin.
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