Surgical Sponges Left Inside the Body

retained surgical sponge

Operating teams may use a number of gauze-like sponges during a surgery.

If the team fails to keep an accurate count of the sponges, one or more could be left inside of a patient.

This is a type of medical negligence. It is considered to be a “serious reportable event” that can lead to serious and potentially deadly effects, including:

  • Infections
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Development of a hernia

The need for surgery to remove the retained sponge will be necessary.

About Our Surgical Malpractice Lawyer

At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, we have handled cases involving retained sponges and retained foreign bodies.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm because a sponge was negligently left behind after an operation at a hospital in Indianapolis or surrounding areas in Indiana, contact the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson for a timely, free and confidential consultation.

An experienced surgical malpractice lawyer from our firm can review your case along with our on-staff registered nurse and highly qualified physician experts. We can help you to understand what occurred in your case and discuss your legal rights and options as you move forward.

Retained Surgical Instruments after Surgery in Indiana

Indiana hospitals that reported this event in 2012 (most recent data):

Hospital (location) Events
Lutheran Hospital (Fort Wayne) 1
Witham Hospital (Lebanon) 1
Dearborn County Hospital 1
IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital (Muncie) 2
Elkhart General Hospital (Elkhart) 1
Hendricks Regional Health (Danville) 2
Community Hospital (Munster) 1
Community Hospital North 1
Community Hospital South (Indianapolis) 1
Indiana Heart Hospital (Indianapolis) 1
Indiana University Health (Indianapolis) 1
St. Vincent Hospital (Indianapolis) 1
IU Health Bloomington Hospital 2
Memorial Hospital of South Bend 1
IU Health Arnett Hospital 1
Deaconess Hospital (Evansville) 2


Source: Indiana Medical Error Reporting System (MERS)

Why Are Surgical Sponges Left Behind After Surgery?

Surgery may involve multiple medical professionals, numerous instruments and a wide range of tasks that must each be carefully performed. Unfortunately, this environment too often leads to sponges being left in a patient’s body.

Recent studies suggest that between 4,500 and 6,000 cases arise each year in the U.S. in which surgical items are retained in a patient’s body after an operation, with sponges accounting for nearly two-thirds of those lost surgical items.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of surgical sponges and other items being left inside a patient is especially high in:

  • Emergency operations
  • Surgeries in which unplanned procedures are needed to deal with complications
  • Operations involving overweight patients.

Sponges are most commonly left in the chest, vagina or abdominal cavity, studies indicate.

The failure to keep an accurate count of the number of sponges introduced to and retrieved from a patient’s body during the surgery is the primary reason why this occurs.

As research suggests, manual counts can be ineffective. For instance, in 23 percent of the cases analyzed in a study by Mount Sinai Hospital, a manual count failed to detect that a surgical item or sponge had been left behind. In 68 percent of the retained sponge cases that were analyzed in a Mayo Clinic study, a manual count had failed to detect that a mistake had been made.

Methods of Locating Sponges Left Inside the Body

Get help from a compassionate Indiana surgical errors attorney after an rsi | the Law Office of Kelley J. JohnsonMore effective electronic tracking systems are available but not widely used.

For instance, one system involves placing small radio-frequently tags on each sponge. At the end of the surgery, a patient’s body is scanned to determine whether any of the sponges have been left inside and can be removed before the patient is closed up.

According to media reports, this system has been successfully used by the Indiana University Health System. According to IU Health officials, the system has managed to detect retained sponges in several instances where manual counts had failed to identify the error.

Another system involves placing a bar code on each sponge that must be scanned when a sponge is used and retrieved.

However, only about 15 percent of hospitals in the country use these potentially life-saving electronic tracking systems, a USA Today investigation revealed.

Dealing with the Costs of a Retained Sponge in Body

According to the New York Times, a Medicare study found that the average cost of hospitalization due to retained surgical instruments, including sponges, to be $60,000.

However, this estimated cost does not reflect the amount of pain and suffering, anxiety and depression, lost income and detrimental effect on family members that may result from dealing with a retained surgical sponge.

If you or a loved one has suffered physical, emotional and financial harm due to a sponge behind left behind in surgery, taking legal action could lead to a recovery for these losses.

It will be important to have your case thoroughly investigated and analyzed by an experienced attorney and a medical expert. For instance, an investigation may reveal that a manual count failed to identify that a sponge had been left inside you or your loved one’s body – a mistake that was entirely preventable.

The doctor, nurse and other members of the operating team could be held accountable for the harm caused by their negligence. The hospital or clinic could also be held liable for the careless mistakes of its employees or directly liable for its own negligence in failing to adopt more effective procedures for tracking surgical sponges and other instruments.

Contact Us For a Free Consultation if You Suffered Surgical Errors

At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, we can closely examine your case to determine whether it presents an actionable claim of surgical malpractice, and we can determine the parties who should be held responsible. We can then pursue just compensation on behalf of you and your family.

Because strict time limits apply to medical malpractice claims in Indiana, it will be important to get started in your case right away. So, please contact us today by phone or online.

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