Published 12:02 p.m. UTC Sep 2, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The family of a Tennessee man sued TriStar Centennial hospital alleging a surgeon left a needle inside his body during a heart surgery last year and was unable to retrieve it in a second operation.
John Burns Johnson, 73, of Lafayette died approximately a month after the surgery, the lawsuit says. His health steadily worsened after the needle was lost in his body.
“Mr. Johnson’s condition continued to deteriorate over the next thirty days,” the lawsuit states. “He was critically ill and never saw his home again.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Davidson County court, states that Johnson underwent open heart surgery at TriStar Centennial on May 2, 2017. After approximately nine hours of the surgery, a surgeon closed Johnson’s chest and rewired his sternum, then discovered that one of his surgical needles was missing. An X-ray then confirmed that the needle had been accidentally left inside Johnson’s body.
More: Surgery centers don't have to report deaths in 17 states
The surgeon then reopened Johnson’s chest cavity to retrieve the needle but was unable to remove it. The lawsuit does not make it clear if the needle could not be located or if it was unable to be removed for another reason. Regardless, after approximately three hours of additional surgery, the surgeon closed Johnson’s chest and rewired his sternum, leaving the needle inside.
The needle was finally removed more than a month later, after Johnson’s death, during his autopsy. The lawsuit alleges that Johnson suffered in his final month of life and describes his death as "painful, unnecessary and wrongful."
In a statement released Friday afternoon, TriStar said it was only recently made aware of the lawsuit and was not yet prepared to respond to its specific claims. The Nashville hospital is part of the TriStar Health chain, which is owned by HCA Healthcare, the largest hospital company in the country.
"We take the responsibility of properly caring for our patients very seriously and empathize with the understandable grief being felt by the family," the TriStar statement said.
The lawsuit alleges the troubled surgery was performed by Dr. Sreekumar Subramanian. Subramanian has no discipline cases recorded by the state and has a 5-star rating on TriStar's website. He began work at the hospital in 2015.
Medical objects being left in a patient’s body is a rare but not unheard of mistake, and the consequences can be severe. These incidents occur in about 1 of every 5,500 to 7,000 surgeries, and about 10 percent of the items left behind are surgical needles, according to a 2014 study published by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. About 2 percent of the incidents are fatal.
The lawsuit was filed by Johnson’s widow, son and daughter. Their attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.
Follow Brett Kelmanon Twitter: @brettkelman.