One in every 5,000 surgical patients has a surgical object accidentally left inside them after the surgery is over. Sponges make up to 40% of all retained objects. Estimates suggest that 54% of sponges are left in the abdomen, 22% in the vagina and 7% in the thorax.
The Journal of Radiology calls the leaving behind of surgical objects in patients a “highly underestimated problem,” and a recent report says that some 1,500 patients in the U.S. find themselves with foreign matter left in their bodies after surgery.
The official definition of a Retained Surgical Item (RSI) is a medical or surgical item intentionally packed by provider(s) that are unintentionally left in place. Another similar definition is unintentional retention of a foreign object in a patient after surgery or other invasive procedure.
When sponges are left inside patients they often soak up pus and bile, literally rotting victims away from the inside. Most patients have complained for months or even years about pain and other symptoms and often doctors tell them that there is no cause and that they are imagining problems. Rotting sponges can often create problems in the surrounding tissue that causes major issues.
Sadly the public never hears about most of these retained surgical item (RSI) cases because the settlement agreements typically bind the victim to silence due to confidentiality. But several years ago a series of multiple patients with surgical tools left behind at University of Washington Medical Center leaked to the press and created a PR nightmare for UW Physicians.
Because Davis Law Group is a Seattle medical malpractice law firm we have learned of similar cases of sponges left behind after surgery at Swedish Hospital and surgical instruments and sponges left in patients at Virginia Mason Hospital. We have handled similar cases at other hospitals in Washington State as well.