Accidental Fires Happen In Hundreds Of Surgeries Every Year
EDITORS NOTE: The featured video contains graphic pictures of surgical fire burn victims.
By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- Out of the nearly 60 million surgeries in this country every year, about 600 involve accidental fires. Many of the fires burn clean, so they're invisible, which means doctors and nurses are completely caught off guard and often don't realize a fire has started until they see the drapes or the patient burn.
On Monday, The News On 6 told you about a woman who was burned when she was accidentally set on fire during breast reconstruction surgery in December.
Connie Plumlee survived breast cancer two years ago and was having breast reconstruction surgery in Tulsa when she woke up to a bandaged face and learned she'd been burned during a fire in the operating room.
"I've had so many surgeries, so I was determined. I knew I had to get up, so I got up that night. I was curious, that's just my personality, so I was curious to what was going on and when I looked in the mirror, it was shocking," said Plumlee.
Records show her surgeon, Dr. Brad Garber, swabbed her chest with alcohol, then ignited a cauterizing tool, which ignited the drapes and Connie. Nearly 70 percent of surgical fires start this way.
Experts say surgical suites contain the triangle of fire -- heat, oxygen and fuel. They say it's critical for surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists to communicate, receive training and go through fire drills.
Jessica, 13, went in for outpatient surgery in 2005 in Illinois to have a cyst removed from her ear, but came out burned, after oxygen ignited.
Rita Talbert was burned in a surgical fire in 2005 and still has trouble closing her mouth and can't eat correctly.
Both were shocked to learn hospitals in most states are not required to report these fires.
A nonprofit group for patient care offers training and safety posters for surgical suites. Key issues include letting alcohol dry completely before igniting a heat source and keeping gauze and other padding wet.
New recommendations came out last fall urging hospitals to eliminate the open delivery of 100 percent oxygen during sedation. Two months later, a surgical fire changed Connie's life.
"I don't think of it until I see my face, like when I'm out shopping and pass a mirror and then I'm like, ‘oh, I'm a burn victim.' That's how I see myself, I'm a burn victim," said Plumlee.
Dr. Garber's attorney told The News On 6 they couldn't comment on litigation. Connie and her husband have filed a lawsuit.
Connie's attorney tells The News On 6 Dr. Garber first noticed the fire when he realized his own hands were burning, then saw the drapes and Connie burning.