News Clips— Forgetful surgeons

TO QUIET any public fear, UW Medical Center doctors recently announced they would begin counting large surgical instruments after all surgeries, the way they "always" count small equipment such as sponges and needles.

The announcement came after Donald Church obtained a $100,000 settlement because UW doctors errantly left a 13-inch retractor in his abdomen, requiring a second surgery. The UW then admitted this was one of five cases of instruments being left inside patients over the past five years.

But the UW's been having problems with "always" counting those small items the past five years, too, public records show. Someone, for example, forgot to count the 6-inch Babcock clamp doctors left behind in a woman's abdominal cavity. And staffers overlooked a short length of surgical tubing left in an especially small space of a male patient—his scrotum.

After two months of pain and infection, the man had to undergo another surgery to extract the 2-inch tubing. He had undergone the original surgery for infertility. The operation instead left him without a sex drive, the man claimed. The university settled both cases.

Officials say they're unsure how the hospital ranks statistically for surgical errors but claim the UW averages a "low" one mistake per every 12,000 surgeries.

"We assure the public," says UW medical director Dr. Eric Larson, "that they can continue to have confidence that care delivered at our hospital is second to none."

That wasn't exactly the case in another operation involving instruments and forgetfulness, however. A female patient says a UW plastic surgeon absently leaned against a surgical cauterizing tool during her 1999 breast augmentation, leaving a burn scar on her abdomen.

Said her attorney, "This is particularly upsetting to our client since the reason why she decided to undergo breast augmentation surgery in the first place was to look good in a two-piece bathing suit." He added that her nipples were also no longer located in the center of her breasts.

Rick Anderson

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