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Left Behind for 4 Years: Sponge Leads to Misery, Litigation

Patient says she was repeatedly misdiagnosed.

Published: June 20, 2014

A sponge left inside a California woman cost her several years of misery and misdiagnoses, and might end up costing a hospital, 3 physicians and 2 radiologists, as well.

Carol Critchfield, 63, is suing Simi Valley (Calif.) Hospital, the surgeons who performed her hysterectomy in 2007, an ER physician, and 2 radiologists who detected the presence of a metallic object on an X-ray taken 2 days after her surgery, but who failed to report their finding up the chain of command, her lawyer, Steven C. Gambardella, told Outpatient Surgery. Mr. Gambardella declined to identify the physicians and radiologists named in the suit.

According to news reports, over the 4 years that followed her surgery, Ms. Critchfield suffered nausea, constant thirst, vaginal bleeding, blurry vision and abdominal pain, and was variously diagnosed with severe constipation, gastrointestinal distress and an ovarian cyst. In 2011, when her ovaries were removed, the sponge was discovered. She says it had become "encased with scar tissue," which required that a "large amount of [her] intestine" be removed, as well.

The hospital reported the incident in 2011 and was fined $25,000 in 2012.

A statement released by the hospital reads in part, "We take our responsibility to our patients very seriously, which is why we self-reported this incident. … This event occurred in 2007 and since that time, we have implemented additional processes that further promote patient safety."

The cap for malpractice damages is $250,000 per patient in California, a figure that has remained the same since the 1970s. A measure that would raise the cap to $1 million is on the state's November ballot.

Jim Burger

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