Surgery Made Safer

(WSVN) - It should have been a routine surgery, but a retired Palm Beach County judge almost died after a sponge was left in his body. Now a new device could stop that from ever happening again. 7’s Brandon Beyer has the story.

Nelson Bailey spent much of his life hearing people’s stories in court.

Now he’s got stories of his own to tell as he travels across Florida as an old time story teller.

It’s not always easy for him. The 74-year-old suffers from diverticulitis — which affects his intestines and can be deadly.

But it’s not his illness that nearly cost him his life.

The judge’s troubles began when he went to Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach to have surgery for his diverticulitis.

Judge Nelson Bailey: “They had to do a full operation where they cut me wide open after more than a week of incredible pain.”

He was sent home after the surgery, but continued to have terrible pain and bloating. X-rays and CAT scans showed nothing.

Judge Nelson Bailey: “I finally got a call from the surgeon who’d done the operation to tell me, very apologetically, ‘We left a sponge in you.'”

For five months, this foot long sponge remained in his abdomen.

Judge Nelson Bailey: “The sponge had been wrapped around part of my intestines. They had rotted away.”

The judge sued the hospital and reached a settlement.

But mistakes like this aren’t that uncommon.

According to the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, something is left inside a surgical patient more than a hundred times every year. And most of the time, what’s left behind is a sponge.

Steve Seely, Jupiter Medical Center Chief Nurse: “They get soaked with blood. It can be very hard to identify sometimes. The way things work in the operating room, it has basically always been a manual process for counting instruments and needles and sponges.”

But there is a solution called the “Situate Detection System.”

Each sponge has a tiny magnetic chip sewn inside.

A sensor wand is used to scan the patient’s body during surgery.

If a sponge is detected, the machine beeps within seconds.

The scanner has been in hospitals since 2006, but few hospitals in South Florida have purchased the system.

Judge Nelson Bailey: “It’s an important issue, and it can impact any person watching this. It could be a big part of their life any day, you never know.”

But what Judge Bailey does know – the importance of understanding our “safer surgery” options.

If you want to have surgery with the device, for now, you’d have to travel to Palm Beach County, though 7News was told a major Broward County hospital group may have it soon.

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