Objects Left Inside a Patient Following Surgery

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2018 | Medical Malpractice


One of the most unimaginable mistakes a surgeon could make is leaving a tool inside the patient’s body. But it’s not as rare as you think.

Researchers at Loyola University Health System reported that approximately 1,500 instruments are left behind in patients who undergo surgery each year. Out of about 28 million surgical procedures performed in the country annually, it doesn’t seem too bad. But just one “misplaced” object can seriously affect a patient’s life, leading to chronic pain, further medical expenses, and in the worst cases, death.

One example is Glenford Turner of Bridgeport, who brought a claim against the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). After experiencing significant abdominal pain, the army vet discovered that a scalpel had been left in his body during a surgery four years earlier! An X-ray revealed the startling discovery, and Turner underwent an operation to remove it.

In another case, Carol Critchfield underwent a hysterectomy and bladder surgery at the Simi Valley Hospital in California. She returned three days later complaining of pain, but was told that it was related to constipation and that there were no major concerns. Almost four years later, she began to experience bleeding. Her gynecologist made a ghastly discovery: a sponge, presumably from the surgery, was inside Critchfield’s ovary, covered in scar tissue. Critchfield needed a portion of her intestine removed and has also filed a suit for medical malpractice.

Meet the “Never Events”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussed these types of problems, which belong to a group called “never events”: mistakes that should never occur in medicine. Other mishaps that are classified in this category include wrong body-part surgery, the wrong surgical procedure on the right body part, or the right operation performed on the wrong patient. Data showed that from 1990 to 2010 there were 9,744 medical malpractice claims paid out relating to these troubling events.

The Facts About Leave-In Surgery

The two objects most commonly left behind in a patient are needles and sponges, which are used to absorb and suppress bleeding. Most cases of objects being left behind occur in the abdomen, chest, or vagina. The majority of these mistakes are the result of human error-not counting tools, being fatigued, or confusion during an emergency operation. Other risk factors include performing several procedures in the same surgery, and when more than a single team is working on a patient.

The consequences of a forgotten object may be relatively harmless in rare instances; however, they can lead to a preventable death. The object may remain within the individual for years before being discovered. Generally, an additional surgery is needed for object removal. Side effects of having a surgical tool stuck inside you include:

  • Infections
  • Severe internal pain
  • Trouble digesting
  • Organ failure

How Leave-In Surgery Can Be Prevented

Hospitals and surgery centers must implement strict procedures to prevent these mishaps. Conducting a pre- and post-operative inventory of supplies-a simple checklist-can prevent this problem. There are even small radio-frequency transmitters that can be attached to items to detect them just in case. A scan or X-ray can also be conducted before the patient leaves the hospital. The Operating Room Nurses Association emphasized the importance of comparing the initial object count to the final count, which is done prior to the surgeon closing the skin.

Stryker, a medical technology company, markets a product known as SurgiCount Safety-Sponge System. This system is designed to address the specific problem of sponges being left behind in surgery, and has been in use since 2009. It features a handheld tablet with a digital display controlled by the user. The sponges are each individually barcoded and recorded. Third-party audits have shown this to be effective at preventing lost sponges. Over 500 medical facilities have implemented it in the U.S., and we hope hospitals and surgery centers continue to explore new ways of keeping these “never events” from happening.

When a surgical team leaves an object in a patient’s body, it is an obvious example of medical malpractice. When that happens, a Kansas City medical malpractice attorneycan help you hold the negligent medical providers responsible for your unnecessary pain, suffering, and removal surgery costs. For a free consultation, call Norton & Spencer, P.C., at (816) 607-4750.


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