Sponges left behind after surgery removed, Japan woman returns happily but not doctors

For 3 years the woman underwent chronic pain

rubber film
Repreentational image: Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, adjusts a tablet computer to access and visualize planning data during liver surgery, one of the first liver surgeries of its kind in Germany August 15, 2013. The tablet computer uses augmented reality, which allows the liver to be filmed with an iPad and overlaid during an operation with virtual 3D models reconstructed from the real organ. Developed by Fraunhofer MEVIS in Bremen, this procedure helps locate critical structures such as tumors and vessels and is expected to improve the quality of transferring pre-operational resection plans into actual surgery. Reuters

Two surgical sponges, left in a woman's abdomen six years ago, caused bloating for over three years until a scan revealed what was wrong and prompted an immediate surgery in a Japanese hospital.

The unidentified 42-year-old woman visited a primary care clinic in Japan last week and a CT scan showed two masses with strings attached to them in her abdomen. A laparotomy was soon conducted to remove the two gauze sponges on the woman's paracolic gutters, the spaces between the colon and the abdominal wall. The woman's symptoms disappeared and she has returned home five days later.

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that the sponges might have been left in the woman's abdomen after a cesarean procedure. The woman had undergone two cesarean sections in the past, one six years ago, and another one nine years ago. The woman did not undergo any other surgical procedure apart from the cesarean.

It is still unclear for researchers whether the surgical sponges were left in the abdomen during the woman's first operation before nine years or the second one conducted six years ago.

In a recent talk with Live Science, Dr Takeshi Kondo, a general medicine physician at Chiba University Hospital and a lead author of the study report said that surgical sponges will be put in the paracolic gutters during procedures to prevent the intestines from getting in the way during surgery.

"The patient received two C-sections in the same gynaecology clinic. Although she met the surgeon and told him about the retained foreign bodies, the surgeon did not admit his mistake on the grounds of lack of clear proof," said Kondo.

In medical science, leaving a medical instrument inside a patient's body is considered a 'never event' which means an event that should never happen. But many surgeons leave it to the support staff to take care of it after the procedure and such examples of medical negligence are manifold in every country.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, about 4,500 to 6,000 cases of retained foreign bodies are being reported every year in the United States. Apart from the surgical sponges, there have been several cases where surgical instruments like clamps and retractors were also left behind and retrieved later from the patients' bodies.

Japan has relatively few claims on medical negligence compared to the United States, England, and Germany, though the number has been rising in recent decades. According to data presented to the Japanese Supreme Court, the annual number of medical malpractice suits filed in district courts has increased from 102 in 1970 to 629 in 1998.