On Behalf of | May 15, 2017 | Medical Malpractice |

When a surgical instrument is left behind inside a patient’s operating site, it can cause infection, disabilities and death.

Thousands of Americans enter the operating room each year and put their lives in the hands of licensed medical professionals, nurses and technicians. While many Pennsylvania patients emerge with favorable results, there are a surprising number of patients who leave the OR with more than they intended. Retained surgical items have been found in a significant number of patients throughout the years. According to a study performed by Johns Hopkins University, these preventable surgical errors occur nearly 4,000 times each year nationwide. Not only can retained surgical items cause disabilities and life-threatening infections, they also put patients’ lives in danger.

What are retained surgical items?

During an operation, surgeons use many different instruments, including sponges, calipers, tubing and forceps. Sponges, which are used to soak up blood and other bodily fluids in the surgical site, are the most common items left behind in patients. These small absorbent patches can easily stick to internal body organs, and essentially disappear into the surgical site. If one is sewn up inside of a patient, however, it can result in extreme pain, infection and even death in some cases.


After having a routine cesarean section, an Alabama woman nearly died when a large surgical sponge was left behind in her abdomen. According to USA Today, the sponge was found after her doctor sent her to the emergency room for x-rays. The woman’s stomach had swollen significantly during the month following the procedure. Then her bowels had completely shut down a few weeks later. The sponge had attached itself to the woman’s intestine, and it took nearly six hours to remove the infected mass from her body. She was released from the hospital three weeks later, lucky to be alive. For some never-event victims, surgical intervention comes too late and infection ultimately results in patient death.

Prevention is key

Many operating rooms in Pennsylvania and across the country rely on surgical counts to keep track of all of the instruments before, during and after the procedure. While the OR can be a chaotic environment with consistent staff changes, these counts may become inaccurate. The New York Times reported that in four out of five incidents where foreign objects have been left inside a patient, the surgical team actually posted that all sponges had been accounted for. New technology, including bar codes and radio frequency tags were designed to remedy this growing problem and prevent retained sponges.

Finding legal help

People who have been victimized by retained surgical instruments may want to contact a medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer may be helpful in discussing your legal options and formulating a case against the negligent party.