When Objects Are Left Behind After Surgery

May 4, 2020

By Grossman Green PLLC

Some people in Kentucky may have heard about individuals who undergo surgery and have an object left behind in their body. While this is a rare occurrence, it does happen between 4,500 and 6,000 times annually in the United States. In some cases, this can be harmless, but in other cases, it can cause serious illness and even death.

Sponges and needles are the objects most commonly left behind. It can be difficult to keep track of sponges, and surgical staff might be more likely to lose them during an emergency or if they are fatigued. Sponges can also blend in with tissue and organs in the body and be lost. A high patient body mass, multiple surgical teams and high blood loss may all increase the likelihood of sponges being left behind. Some medical facilities have begun using sponge-tracking technology to prevent this.

Other objects that have been left behind include surgical gloves, clamps, scissors and towels. A surgical retractor was left in the abdomen of one cancer patient from Wisconsin. After heart bypass surgery, a man was left with a two-inch scalpel in his abdomen. The consequences of these errors can include fever, internal bleeding, digestive issues and damage to internal organs. It may be months or years before an object is discovered, and it may be necessary to undergo surgery again to remove it.

A person who suffers an injury as a result of medical error may want to talk an attorney about filing a claim for medical malpractice. Medical malpractice can include not just surgical errors but such mistakes as medication errors and misdiagnoses. The legal system uses a standard of reasonable care to determine whether a particular mistake constitutes negligence. Some medical professionals or facilities may settle a medical malpractice claim out of court, but in other cases, it might go to litigation.