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Another Reason to Avoid Surgery - Catching Fire "A Bigger Risk Than Thought"

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Operating room fires have seriously injured, even killed patients, and are more common than previously believed.

Data released by the State of Pennsylvania showed 28 operating room fires a year for the past three years in Pennsylvania. Nationally there may be hundreds of such fires, more than the 50 to 100 previously estimated by patient safety organizations.

Mark Bruley, vice president for accident and forensic investigation at the ECRI Institute in Pennsylvania said, "The numbers are higher than we expected…Having a fire on your face can be severely disfiguring and a horrendous experience. With throat procedures, where these fires often occur, they can be fatal."

Operating room safety specialists recommend:

  1. That doctors use less than 100 percent oxygen during head and neck surgery
  2. that surgeons store hot instruments off the operating table when they are not in use,
  3. that doctors wait two or three minutes until alcohol-based products have evaporated from the skin before using cautery tools.


Globe Newspaper Company reported that Antoinette DiPhillipo entered the hospital for gallbladder surgery and woke in her hospital room with burns and blisters covering her midsection and abdomen. During surgery, a cautery instrument had ignited an alcohol-based product applied to her abdomen and chest, and a flash fire occurred. A surgical technician told health officials that he heard a sound similar to lighting a grill. Officials for the hospital made light of estimates of Antoinette DiPhillipo's burns and suffering, and denied that they did not tell her what happened in the operating room. They did say that the fire led to more aggressive prevention policies. DiPhillipo said, "I just wanted to know what happened and for someone to talk to me," she said. "It would have been nice if I had gotten an apology."

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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