Skip to Main Content

Surgical Sponge Left in Patient

Surgical tools are left inside a patients bodies over 2,000 times per year. How does that make you feel if you are about to undergo surgery?

The Case of Larney Johnson

Larney Johnson was only a teen in 2006 when he was struck by a bullet while he played basketball with friends. The path of the bullet which struck Johnson penetrated his kidney and struck his spine, immediately paralyzing him from the waist down. Paramedics rushed him to a nearby Los Angeles hospital where his life, and his kidney, were ultimately saved.

Fast forward three years and Larney Johnson is living as normal a life as he can under the circumstances. That’s when doctors revealed the news that would anger and terrify Johnson all at once. During his initial lifesaving operation, surgeons had accidentally left behind a surgical sponge which, if not removed, may have caused complications later (it did not appear as if the sponge had caused complications up to the point of its discovery). A second operation was needed to remove the sponge.

The Risk of Human Error

Despite how advanced our methods of modern surgery become, any time the body is cut open, it causes great trauma to that part, if not the whole of the body. Once the body experiences that kind of trauma, it is never the same again. Whether the difference is noted or not, the area operated on will never be as strong as it was before the operation. This is also true of subsequent operations. Each time a doctor has to operate on the same part of the body, that body part becomes weaker and weaker. Aside from the physical trauma caused to the body, every operation, no matter its greater purpose, carries a risk of infection, complication, or, in the case of Larney Johnson’s initial operation, human error. In extreme cases, these infections, complications, and human errors can directly result in loss of life.

Sponges, needles, knife blades, safety pins, scalpels, scissors and towels are some of the typical instruments left behind.

A study by Johns Hopkins University researchers using data collected between the mid-1990s and 2010 estimated that surgeons leave tools or implements, like surgical sponges, behind in patients about 39 times a week, or a little over 2,000 times per year, in the U.S. These may not seem like staggering statistics, considering all of the surgeries conducted in the U.S. each and every year, but the effects can be serious if the person affected by a doctor’s negligence is you or someone you love.

What’s Being Done About Missing Surgical Tools?

Fortunately, new technologies are being developed and introduced to the field of surgery that are helping to reduce the likelihood of sponges and other tools being left behind in patients. Bar code technology has been implemented in some hospitals that allows surgery teams to scan everything to be used during an operation and scanned again after the operation. If the list of scanned items from prior to the operation is longer than the list of scanned items following the operation, then something is missing. Wands have also been developed that can read these bar codes through human flesh. If the bar code wand goes off when it passes over a patient, then the bar coded implement has been found.

What Can You Do About It?

Anyone who is concerned about being the victim of this kind of medical malpractice should talk to their surgeon before a surgery to determine what kind of procedure the hospital uses to make sure all tools and implements are properly accounted for after a surgical procedure. Also, if after the procedure, the person feels pain long after the body has supposedly healed, a second opinion can be sought to determine if the pain is related to the healing process or to the negligence of medical staff – something that can typically be determined from an x-ray or CT scan. Negligent actions of doctors who left tools inside a patient should be held accountable. In Los Angeles you may contact our attorneys Fisher & Talwar for help with your medical malpractice claim.