A Michigan news outlet is reporting on a case where medical doctors left a surgery sponge in a man’s heart. John Doyle had surgery at Covenant Healthcare in 2003. Several years later, he discovered that a four inch by four inch surgery sponge had been left inside his body during that surgery.
Initially, the case had been dismissed under Michigan’s statute of limitations. According to the article, Michigan’s statute of limitations gives injured patients six years to file their lawsuit. But a Michigan appeals court found that Michigan’s six-year statute of limitations does not apply to the particular case.
For eight years, the sponge remained inside Mr. Doyle’s body until complications arose and an X-ray discovered what was initially thought to be a tumor.
During many surgeries, hundreds of surgical instruments are used. During surgeries, medical providers are required to keep a strict count of all medical equipment before and after the surgery to ensure that none had been left inside the patient. In this particular case, the count should have revealed that one of the 40 sponges used in Mr. Doyle’s heart surgery had been left inside him.
Retained Foreign Object: Surgery Sponge
The technical name for the situation where a surgery sponge has been left inside a patient’s body is called gossypiboma or retained foreign object. Estimates of how often surgical sponges are left inside the body are often stated to be low because of underreporting and the fact that surgical sponges left inside the body do not come to light until complications arise.
In Mr. Doyle’s case, he died at the age of 77 in 2015. The cause of death was listed as pneumonia/sepsis.
These cases are often described in the law as “res ipsa loquitor,” often translated into the thing speaks for itself. In many jurisdictions, this means that the medical malpractice is so clear that no expert testimony will be required. The specific situation will depend on law in your particular state and many states have put significant restrictions on this area of medical malpractice. But if you feel you have been the victim of medical malpractice, you should contact an attorney specialized in medical malpractice.