As medical malpractice attorneys, we meet Connecticut residents all the time who are victims of "retained surgical items"—which means a doctor left a tool inside of their bodies after a surgery and sewed them up with it still in there. So, when we read a recent article on the topic in USA Today, we were appalled, but not surprised. The article zeroed in on the growing trend of surgeons leaving gauzy cotton sponges in patients' bodies.

According to the article, there is no federal reporting requirement when hospitals leave items in patients, but research studies and government data suggest it happens between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year. Surgical sponges account for two-thirds of these incidents.

Sponge accidents can be especially troubling because there aren't always signs right away, and it can be months or years before people actually realize what is causing the severe pain, digestive issues, and other symptoms. By that time, the sponges have often caused serious infections, migrated to other parts of the abdomen, or even fused to the patient’s intestines. The end result can include repeated rounds of surgery, scarring, and medical challenges for the rest of an individual's life.

Sometimes, the complications are fatal.

Even with the catastrophic injuries lost sponges can cause, many hospitals have simply not placed sponge-detecting technology at the top of their list. While some health care professionals don't think the danger is worth the expense, some doctors are seeing the light. Susan Phillips, UNC Health's vice president of perioperative services, pushed for the tracking system after UNC's hospitals had two lost sponge cases. She feels that the technology pays for itself if it stops just one error. Unfortunately, when a surgical department is slapped with a medical malpractice suit, the legal fees and other costs do not come out of their department’s budget. Because of that, Ms. Phillips needed to cut medical supply costs in her department to offset the cost of the new sponge detecting technology.

Lost surgical sponges are just one way that medical negligence can inflict lasting damage on a patient’s life. If you believe that you are the victim of medical malpractice in Connecticut, contact the Bartinik Law Firm, P.C. for a free consultation by calling 860-445-8521 or We never charge legal fees unless we can secure a settlement or damage award for you, so the call is absolutely risk free.

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