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Misplaced sponges and instruments can lead to problems patients

Officially called "retained surgical items," sponges and instruments accidentally left inside patients' bodies during surgeries and sealed inside are a potentially fatal form of surgeon malpractice. Massachusetts residents may have heard about the Alabama woman who had a caesarian section in 2010. A surgical sponge that was used during the procedure was left inside her abdomen, and it caused her stomach to swell and caused her bowels to shut down. Six weeks after the caesarian section, she had to undergo a six-hour emergency surgery to remove the sponge and then six weeks of hospitalization.

In other cases of retained surgical items, patients go months or even years with severe or debilitating pains before it is determined that the causes are errors that were made on the operating tables. It is often the case that an infection will have developed by the time the lost item is discovered and removed, and in some cases, the patients suffer lifelong complications or die as a direct result of the foreign objects inside them. 

Although the medical community refers to such accidents as "never events," or preventable mistakes that can have disastrous consequences, cases of retained surgical items are not uncommon. It is estimated from various studies and government statistics that sponges and instruments are left inside patients' bodies between 4,500 and 6,000 times per year.

Along with the physical and emotional distress of the victims of medical malpractice involving retained medical items, this predicament often leaves the victims or their surviving family members with enormous financial burdens. According to data from Medicare, the average cost of hospitalization for a retained surgical item is more than $60,000. In Massachusetts, people who had surgical items left in their bodies may benefit from consulting experienced medical malpractice attorneys who may explain their rights and possible courses of action.

Source: WZZM 13 ABC, "Health Investigation: Surgery Mistakes," Amy Fox, March 8, 2013

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