A Florida man is suing a hospital after he woke up during his pacemaker surgery to a nurse screaming, “Oh, my God! He’s on fire!”
The Naples News reported that Frank Komorowski, then 68, of East Naples Fla., woke to the smell of burning flesh in the operating room and suffered from second-degree burns to his shoulder, chest and neck after undergoing surgery at NCH Downtown Naples Hospital on March 19, 2008.
“And the next thing I remember is … smelling my skin burning,” Komorowski testified, the Naples News reported.
“The bottom line is they set the man on fire,” Komorowski’s attorney, Mark Weinstein, argued in his hearing last week. “It is universally acknowledged this does not happen in the absence of negligence.”
But the hospital’s attorney maintains that NCH was not negligent because the surgeon who performed the operation was not a hospital employee.
Komorowski could not be reached for comment.
While surgical fires are rare, they can be prompted by the combination of heat, alcohol and oxygen in the operating room. Most of these fires occur in the oxygen-enriched environment because the concentration of oxygen in an operating room can be greater than that of ordinary room air, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“The high oxygen concentration can cause that fine body hair to be extremely flammable — a ripple of flames that spreads across the skin, traveling at 10 feet per second,” Mark Bruley, vice president for accident and forensic investigation for the ECRI Institute, told the Naples News. “Oxygen makes other things a fuel.”
An FDA spokesperson told ABCNews.com she could not comment on ongoing investigations regarding the surgical fire, but hospital experts at NCH agreed that DuraPrep, an alcohol-based antiseptic, had not fully dried and caused a cauterizing device to set fire in the operating room.
“There are between 550 and 650 surgical fires a year,” Bruley told ABCNews.com in December, but fewer than 30 fires per year actually result in patient injuries, he said.
Nevertheless, in October, the FDA launched Preventing Surgical Fires Initiative to increase awareness and prevention tools for surgeons and their teams.
The government agency also held a webinar Tuesday that was meant to provide tips and insight in preventing surgical fires and risk reduction practices. Visit FDA’s Preventing Surgical Fires website for detailed information about accessing webcast slides and audio portion.