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Sponge left after surgery leads to medical malpractice lawsuit

Many times when a patient undergoes surgery, speculation may arise about the nature of whatever it is that the surgeon may have removed, be it an appendix, a gall bladder, or a foreign object. Occasionally, however, the issue involves the opposite: What was it that the surgeon left behind?

A recent example of this form of potential surgical error has gone to trial, with the plaintiff alleging that a surgical sponge that was left behind in his wife ultimately caused her death. He is suing based on claims of medical malpractice and wrongful death.

According to the plaintiff’s account, his wife was undergoing a marathon surgery that lasted 17 hours when the mistake happened; possibly during a shift change among the medical personnel involved.

At first the missing sponge seemed to have been accounted for, but as events turned out the sponge count was evidently not accurate and one was left behind in the patient. The complaint claims that an X-ray image revealed the lingering sponge in the patient, but that the surgeon responsible for the operation did not look at it.

Eventually the sponge was identified, and two follow-up operations were performed to try to retrieve it, but both failed. One of them, it appears, may have even resulted in an additional injury to the patient, who eventually died a little more than a year after the original operation.

Although the defense in this case has acknowledged that a sponge was left behind in the patient, it claims that the surgical error in this instance was not the cause of her death.

This case did not occur in the state of South Carolina, but its significance to residents of this state who undergo surgeries lies in the realization that the phenomenon of surgeons leaving objects in patients is not confined to any single place.

At least one study has recorded more than 700 instances of this kind of surgical error taking place nationwide over a span of seven years, which resulted in 16 deaths.

As long as surgeries are performed by human beings, surgeons or their supporting staff will inevitably make human errors on occasion. If those surgical errors stem from negligence that causes harm to the patient, it can be a good idea to speak with an attorney to explore the options available for holding a negligent party accountable and pursuing compensation.

Source: Dayton Daily News, "Sponge left in woman's body results in medical malpractice suit," Mark Gokavi, July 14, 2014

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