Soon after Marna Gold had a hysterectomy, she knew something was wrong. She was in pain and running a fever. That's when doctors discovered two surgical sponges left inside her body after surgery.
"It was a mistake, it was really a mistake," she said.
Each year there are hundreds of cases where surgical items are mistakenly left inside patients, most of them gauze sponges. To prevent problems, hospitals do a manual count of sponges and other instruments at the end of each operation. Now, new technology is helping keep track.
New York's Montefiore Medical Center is one of several hospitals using the RF Assure Detection System. Each sponge has a radio-frequency chip. Before the patient is stitched up, doctors wave a wand over the patient. The system alerts the staff if it picks up a signal.
"Things can get hidden there and so this is a technology with the ability to add to our manual count, pause at the end of the operation and say before we close, we want to be sure that all the sponges are recovered," said Dr. Robert Michler, the chair of the surgery department at Montefiore.
Experts say while the new technology is useful, it's not a substitute for counting every sponge used during surgery. Diligence, they say, is essential in the operating room.
"The surgeon has to do a wound examination before they begin to close," said Dr. Verna Gibbs, the director of the No Thing Left Behind project. "It's the surgeon's job to get the sponges out or any other items which he or she did not intend to remain."
Gold needed a second surgery to remove the sponges.
"I was lucky because I did everything very promptly and I was scared enough to have everything checked," she said.
Quick action was key. Doctors say waiting longer could have caused serious complications.
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