When considering the potential dangers of undergoing surgery, a fire-related incident typically doesn’t make the list of concerns. This is because surgical fires, or operating room fires are relatively rare; with an estimated 550-650 occurring annually according to The American Society of Anesthesiologists. For the average patient, these surgical fires pose a negligible risk.
Yet, for a 10-year-old girl, that was not the case. Bell Law Firm recently filed a medical negligence and liability lawsuit in Cobb County against MAK Anesthesia and Sheel Todd, MD. The young girl underwent a procedure in September of 2019, to remove a small, benign lesion from her eyelid. The procedure required the use of pure oxygen. Anesthesiologist Dr. Todd, however, neglected to reduce and clear the oxygen-rich air in the surgical field.
When the surgeon reached for an electric cautery to stop some bleeding, the spark ignited the oxygen and caused a fireball to erupt around the child’s head and face. The child suffered second-degree burns on her head, face, and neck. After skin graft surgery, she still has large, visible burns and scars on the side of her head and ear. The child receives weekly counseling to help her with the post-traumatic stress and is facing additional surgeries.
This operating room fire could have been completely avoided, if the anesthesiologist had followed simple, well-established protocols. For health care providers to understand how to prevent these unnecessary dangers, we need to first understand how and why they occur in the first place.
How Do Surgical Fires Happen?
There are three components of an operating room fire: an ignition source, an oxidizer such as nitrous oxide or oxygen, and fuel. While these three components are generally present in most operating rooms, the devastating events of a fire during surgery can be prevented by educating surgical teams properly.
How Can Surgical Fires be Prevented?
Beyond proper management of the interaction of the three main components of an operating room fire (ignition, oxidizer and fuel), medical personnel should always be aware of the possibility of a fire and be ready to protect patients from harm. Communication is key here.
From a patient perspective, there are conversations you can have with your health care team prior to surgery that can help boost protection, including:
- Confirm your doctor is aware of the emergency plans and procedures by asking what they would do in the case of a surgical fire
- If your doctor or surgeon doesn’t explain the risk of fire to you, don’t be afraid to ask
- Ask what the health care provider’s procedure is for preventing a fire
While these fires are relatively rare, they should never happen to any patient since they are predictable and, most importantly, avoidable if proper procedures are followed. By holding these defendants accountable, our hope is to raise awareness in the medical community and help prevent future operating room fires. If you or someone you love experienced this type of negligence, please contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.