Anyone familiar with this hospital?
Miami judge awards $455,000 for towel left in patient after surgery
By Catherine Wilson
The Associated Press
October 7, 2003, 5:19 PM EDT
MIAMI -- A judge ordered the Veterans Administration to pay a former patient and his wife $455,000 in damages Tuesday for leaving a 16-by-28-inch surgical towel inside him.
William Barlow's medical team knew from CT scans that he had a foreign object in his abdomen after surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm but discharged him and didn't tell him for three months, the judge said.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages heard the trial without a jury and issued a summary of Barlow's medical case along with the damage award.
``I think it's a fair decision and a sizable sum of money considering Mr. Barlow's age and prior extensive medical history,'' said Lance Stelzer, one of his attorneys. Co-counsel Robert Bryan said: ``She gave everyone a fair shake. She did right.''
The VA conceded fault on the forgotten towel but tried to limit the damage award, citing Barlow's poor health and obesity. A message left with the government's attorney was not immediately returned.
Barlow's attorneys said the agency offered $100,000 in mediation before the trial last month.
Barlow, 62, developed sepsis, a dangerous bloodstream infection, within a week and had a 105-degree fever, the judge said in her summary. He was sent home with a drain to remove pus that accumulated around the towel.
Surgeons thought a sponge had been left inside him, but a second operation in April 2001 instead uncovered the blue cotton towel, which was not designed for use inside the abdomen during surgery.
The judge decided Barlow's existing medical problems, including emphysema, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, were aggravated by the prolonged infection, the 10-day stay for the towel's removal and the quick succession of major surgeries. He also had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney in 2000.
Barlow was in the army from 1958 to 1960. The retired mechanic and electrician bought an airboat business in 1998 but said he was unable to work after the towel was left in place.
A newly released federal report shows that postoperative infections, the reopening of surgical wounds and other often-preventable complications lead to more than 32,000 U.S. hospital deaths and more than $9 billion in extra costs a year.
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