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Hospital Accused In Malpractice Suit

Woman Says Doctors Left 12-Inch Surgical Tool In Pelvis After Hysterectomy

Feb 4, 2003 | The Baltimore Sun A Joppatowne woman has filed a malpractice suit against Franklin Square Hospital Center and the doctors she says left a 12 1/2 -by-1 3/4 -inch metal retractor in her pelvis after a routine hysterectomy in December.

For seven weeks after her surgery, Brenda L. Monaghan, 40, complained of increasing pain, breathing difficulty and gastrointestinal complications, according to the suit filed yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Her doctors, Hanh Tran and Arlene Emmons, prescribed more painkillers and assured her she would soon feel better, the lawsuit said.

It wasn't until a family doctor ordered new X-rays last month that Monaghan discovered the source of her pain, her lawyer said. Visible inside Monaghan's torso was a thick bar ghost white on the slide extending from her hip bones, along her spine and to the gray outline of her ribs.

Tran and Emmons had written in a post-operation report that "sponge, lap, needle and instrument counts were correct times two," meaning that the people in the operating room had counted twice to make sure that all instruments that had gone into Monaghan had come out, according to court papers.

But there, on the X-ray, was a retractor, an instrument used to hold open an incision during surgery.

"They counted twice and missed the retractor?" Monaghan's lawyer, Marvin Ellin, asked yesterday. "This is just absolutely incredible."

Yesterday, Tran's office referred questions about the lawsuit to Franklin Square Hospital, where Emmons is based. Trina M. Adams, a hospital spokeswoman, said Franklin Square officials had no comment.

On Jan. 24, Monaghan went to Laurel Regional Hospital for another surgery this time to remove the retractor.

"This poor woman for seven weeks complained and said there must be something wrong," Ellin said. "If it hadn't been for her persistence, that clamp would still be in her pelvis."

The Baltimore County lawsuit comes weeks after researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston estimated in the New England Journal of Medicine that surgeons leave sponges, clamps and other tools in about 1,500 patients nationwide each year.

In the Jan. 16 article, researchers tried to pinpoint why and when doctors were more likely to leave medical instruments in patients. They concluded that the risk is greater during emergency procedures.

But that finding does not apply to Monaghan's operation, Ellin said. In her case, he said, the hospital and doctors were negligent.

"This wasn't an emergency." he said, "This was a routine hysterectomy."

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