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How Did an Insufflator Cause Second-Degree Burns to a Gastric Banding Patient?

While the patient says its autoclave-hot metal valve burned her stomach, a court isn't blaming the surgeon.

Published: June 12, 2015

A patient who suffered second-degree burns to her stomach from the metal valve of an insufflator that was fresh from the autoclave suffered a setback in court last month. She lost her appeal that asked the courts to find her surgeon responsible for the injury.

Delia Lucas from Pikeville, Ky., says in her medical negligence claim that an insufflator, still hot from the autoclave, burned her as staff prepped her for her gastric banding surgery in 2011. Ms. Lucas alleges that OR staff sterilized the insufflator at a very high temperature and then placed it on her abdomen, causing a second-degree burn.

After the incident, Ms. Lucas filed a negligence lawsuit against the hospital, her surgeon -- Salvador Ramos, MD -- and other OR personnel. All but Dr. Ramos, who says he was not in the room at the time of the burn, settled.

Instead, Dr. Ramos argued that he was not responsible because when he arrived in the OR, all equipment was in its proper place. He also says in court documents that he only saw the burn after he lifted the drapes to start the procedure. Court documents didn't specify what caused the burn, but Dr. Ramos's attorney, Tonya Rager of Wellman, Nichols & Smith, says evidence suggests it was a metal valve that was placed in the autoclave, taken out and assembled into the insufflating system while it was still hot. Then the insufflating system with the hot valve was placed on the abdomen and caused mild second-degree burns.

Upon observing the burn, Dr. Ramos testified that he inquired as to what happened, but no one in the OR claimed any knowledge or responsibility. Dr. Ramos ordered that the burn be "written up" and then made the assessment that it was safe to proceed with the surgery and did so.

In the original lawsuit, a court granted summary judgment in favor of the surgeon, arguing that Ms. Lucas failed to prove he was responsible for the other employees' actions that allegedly caused the burn.

Ms. Lucas then appealed the decision, but last month a Kentucky Court of Appeals confirmed the lower court's ruling. Ms. Lucas's attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Kendal Gapinski

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