All medical procedures have risks, but you don’t typically think of combustion as a common operating room problem. However, a 60-year-old Australian patient’s chest caught fire during emergency heart surgery, according to a release.
So, how exactly does this happen? The patient was previously diagnosed with a chronic lung disease and had remaining air pockets, medically called bullae, as a result. One of the patient’s lungs was stuck to his sternum, and surgeons accidentally punctured a bullae during the operation. This caused air to leak from the man’s lung. Doctors then increased the amount of oxygen in the patient’s anesthesia to prevent respiratory distress. This mix, along with a nearby surgical tool used to seal wounds, emitted a spark and caused a dry surgical pack inside the patient’s chest to catch fire.
The fire was extinguished and the patient didn’t suffer any harm, however his doctors shared this story as a warning to other medical professionals. Although it seems too crazy to be true, this isn’t the first time a patient has caught fire in the OR. The other cases involved patients undergoing various operations, however they all had several common factors.
“While there are only a few documented cases of chest cavity fires–three involving thoracic surgery and three involving coronary bypass grafting–all have involved the presence of dry surgical packs, electrocautery, increased inspired oxygen concentrations, and patients with COPD or pre-existing lung disease,” explained Dr. Ruth Shaylor of Austin Health in Melbourne, in a statement. Shaylor was one of the surgeons in this operation and presented her report at the annual meeting of the European Society of Anaesthesiology this week.
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