Retained Foreign Objects After Surgery – How to Know & What to Do

One of the most horrifying examples of medical malpractice is a surgeon forgetting a foreign object inside the body cavity. Retained foreign objects after surgery can wreak havoc on the patient’s insides, causing serious post-operative health complications. Most patients do not realize that retained surgical bodies occur up to once every 1,000 operations. If you believe you are a victim of this gross form of medical negligence in Kentucky, contact a Louisville medical malpractice lawyer to find out how to hold the at-fault party accountable.

What Is a Retained Foreign Body?

A retained foreign body, retained foreign object, or retained surgical body is any item left inside a patient after a surgery that should not be there. Any surgical tool, instrument, or material unintentionally left inside the body cavity after an operation is a retained foreign body. Follow-up surgeries are typically necessary to remedy retained foreign bodies, as the patient cannot safely continue living with the object in the body cavity.

A surgeon or other health care professional may accidentally leave behind a foreign body due to an act of negligence. During a typical surgery, the operating room has systems in place to cultivate a reasonably safe environment for the patient. It is up to the surgical team to communicate properly with each other, adequately prepare the patient and tools, and to engage in practices such as counting items before and after an operation. Unfortunately, human error can lead to retained foreign bodies under any circumstance.

Retained foreign bodies can cause significant personal injuries, illnesses, and pain and suffering in unsuspecting patients. Many patients eventually discover the presence of a retained foreign body from complaints such as chronic or unexplained pain, infections, or a mass they can feel. Sadly, some patients discover retained surgical bodies too late for treatment. Severe infections, harmful inflammatory reactions, deadly obstructions, and complications during follow-up surgeries can all be fatal for patients.

How Often Does This Malpractice Happen?

According to research, around 1,500 cases of surgeons forgetting foreign objects inside patients arise each year in the United States. This amounts to around 0.3 to 1.0 times per 1,000 abdominal operations. In the majority of cases (88%), those present in the operating room declared the numbers of materials was correct at the end of the surgery. This makes it clear that most operating rooms have serious communication problems. Counting instruments can be difficult when the entire team is focused on treating the patient – especially in trauma cases.

Types of Foreign Objects Left in Patients

A negligent surgeon or surgeon’s assistant could leave virtually any operating instrument inside a patient’s body cavity. Any item or tool used during the procedure could end up classified as a foreign surgical body. However, surgeons leave some items behind more often than others.

• Catheters
• Clamps
• Cotton swabs
• Gauze pads
• Needles
• Pins
• Retractors
• Scissors
• Surgical sponges
• Towels
• Wires

When removed right away, these items typically do not cause harm to the patient. If left behind, however, they can cause serious health problems in the future. Sharper instruments, such as blades, could cause serious internal injuries and organ damage if left behind. It is crucial for a hospital to carry out special systems to help prevent retained foreign bodies.

What Should I Do If I Suspect a Foreign Object Left After Surgery?

Taking the correct steps once you suspect a retained foreign object is crucial to your physical health and the future of your medical malpractice claim. Knowing what to do and where to go for trustworthy counsel can make all the difference. If you need advice specific to your situation, contact an attorney for a free consultation.

1. Find a new doctor.

The moment you suspect a foreign object in your body after an operation, go to a different doctor for a consultation. The same health care center may fail to disclose objects to patients for fear of malpractice lawsuits. This was the case for one patient in Texas, whose doctors failed to tell her about a retained eight-inch long plastic catheter even after 22 chest x-rays over seven years.

2. Gather medical records.

Begin building your case by requesting copies of your medical records from your previous doctor. These records can detail information about your surgical procedure, tests performed, medical history, and complaints of any strange symptoms post-operation. Copies of your medical records can help your attorney prove medical malpractice.

3. Call a medical malpractice lawyer.

Absolutely contact an attorney if you suspect you have a retained foreign object. This is a serious form of medical negligence that requires attention from a lawyer. You can trust an attorney to give you the best possible advice moving forward. Your lawyer can help you gather evidence, prove malpractice, and obtain fair compensation for your damages.

Unintended retention of a foreign object (URFO) is a serious mistake on the surgeon or hospital’s part. Hold the at-fault party accountable with a medical malpractice lawsuit. A suit could result in payment for your related pain and suffering, medical bills, follow-up surgery, lost wages, lost quality of life, and more.

Warning Symptoms of a URFO Left After Surgery

It is often the patient that discovers a retained foreign object. Symptoms or complaints may arise within days of the operation, or the URFO could take years to show signs. While every case is unique, many patients who have experienced this form of malpractice complain of similar health and wellness problems.

• Signs of infection, such as fever, red streaks, swelling, or seepage
• Trouble urinating or passing stools
• Black or bloody bowel movements
• Coughing/vomiting blood
• Trouble eating, breathing, or swallowing
• Unexplained weight loss
• Severe pain near the surgical site
• The incision coming apart
• Overall decline in health post surgery
• Worsening pain or weakness over time

Each situation will vary depending on the individual and the object left behind. Retained foreign objects can cause extreme physical pain and life-threatening health complications. As soon as you notice something amiss after a surgery, seek help from a different doctor.

When to Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney

When a surgeon or health care center negligently fails to prevent a retained foreign body, causing harm to the patient, the patient has the right to seek damage through a civil lawsuit. Filing a medical malpractice claim in Louisville can be the best way to achieve justice and fair compensation for damages. If you or a loved one has suffered from a retained foreign object, contact a lawyer. An attorney can help you understand what to do next.

Contact Meinhart & Manning, PLLC for a Free Consultation

A retained foreign body is an example of extreme negligence in the operating room. Under no circumstances would a reasonable and prudent surgeon leave behind a foreign object in the body cavity. Most cases involve lack of effective communication among personnel, failure to adhere to counting procedures, failure to check the cavity for foreign objects, and lack of technology such as x-rays to seek foreign objects post-operation. If you have been the victim of this type of medical malpractice, you have rights. Seek compensation with help from an attorney. If you’re in Louisville or surrounding communities, contact the office of Meinhart & Manning, PLLC today to schedule your free consultation and initial case evaluation.