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: Missouri Injury Lawyer Blog

Burn Injuries From Fire During Surgery Killed Southern Illinois Woman, Report Says

By Jeff Lowe, Esq.


As a southern Illinois medical malpractice attorney, I was surprised to see a recent article about an Energy woman who died of burns from an unexpected fire during surgery. Janice McCall, 65, was in surgery at Heartland Regional Medical Center Sept. 2 when a flash fire ignited and burned her, the Southern reported Sept. 16. After the incident, McCall was moved to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. She died six days after the fire in Tennessee; the state?s death certificate lists thermal burns as the cause of her death.

The hospital did not respond to calls for comment, although it did issue a press release Sept. 15 to say that operating room personnel put the fire out right away. Marion Fire Chief Jack Reed, who visited the hospital after learning about the incident through news reports, said it wasn?t clear what started the fire, although McCall?s hospital gown may have been involved. Administrators told Reed that the fire lasted 10 to 15 seconds. Flash fires are so named because they appear and disappear suddenly, consuming their fuel quickly. Reed and hospital administrators plan to investigate the cause further. The family has hired an attorney; the article implied that he would request medical records and other documentation for the incident.

According to the article, the flash fire was not a freak accident. Various experts estimate that there are 100 to 600 such fires each year, killing one or two patients annually. One culprit is the use of highly flammable pure oxygen to patients in surgery, which can be ignited by a surgical tool like an electronic scalpel. Once the fire starts, it can be exacerbated by the use of disposable synthetic fabrics, which help maintain a sterile environment for surgery, but are also flammable.

As a St. Louis medical malpractice attorney, I believe the evidence strongly suggests that medical malpractice may have been involved. The Tennessee authorities clearly believe that burns caused McCall?s death -- and of course, there would be no burns if there had been no fire. Whether the fire was a result of medical negligence is harder to say from the evidence available in the article. Medical malpractice is defined as mistakes so serious that they fail to meet the standards of care for the community. Fire is not part of anyone?s plan for surgery; it?s not hard to believe that mistakes that cause a fire on an anesthetized patient?s body could meet that standard. But it?s impossible to say without a thorough and unbiased investigation, which is why I hope McCall?s family gets such an investigation.

Full post as published by Missouri Injury Lawyer Blog on September 22, 2009 (boomark / email).

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