Technology helping find what surgeons leave behind


Last year, Lenny LeClair went to the hospital for what was considered routine surgery. But he says he left the operating room much worse than he came in.

"I never stopped throwing up," he says.

LeClair says he lost 100 pounds!

"I thought I was dying," he says.

LeClair says a gauze sponge was left inside him and it pierced his colon.

There are 40 million surgeries in the United States each year.  This year, about 1,500 Americans will leave the operating room with a surgical instrument left in their body.  Sometimes it does no harm, but in some cases the consequences are deadly.

Sponges and instruments can get left behind during surgery because they're often covered in blood and hard to spot.   And hospital staff sometimes miscounts, something that can happen in emergency situations where seconds matter.

"Basically, the counting procedure for instruments and sponges is the same as it was 40 years ago," says Alex Macario, M.D., an anesthesiologist at Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.  "We're trying to use 21st century technology to help people keep track of supplies in the operating room."

That technology is radio frequency identification (RFID).  In a new study, doctors attached RFID chips to surgical sponges and then waved a wand over a patient after surgery. The chips alerted the doctor if a sponge was left inside 100 percent of the time.

"What we're interested in now is how to make it more foolproof so that it's not dependent on the personnel in the operating room to do the scan correctly every time on every patient," Macario says.

A study finds sponges are left behind the most when patients are male or have a high BMI.  Or, if the procedure is longer than four hours.

We checked with RF Surgical Systems and currently seven hospitals in Florida use this particular technology.  None of those hospitals are in the Jacksonville area.