Gossypiboma Cases: Retained Surgical Instruments

One of the most common forms of medical malpractice is also the most easily preventable: surgical sponges or other materials that are left inside of a patient during surgery. This type of medical malpractice is often referred to as a "gossypiboma" or "textiloma" case.

This particular type of medical malpractice can be avoided in any number of ways, including by maintaining an accurate "sponge count" during surgery, by using surgical equipment that contains trace materials that show up on x-rays, as well as by attaching radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to surgical instruments.

Very often, when a surgical sponge is retained, the patient will not experience an immediate infection. Instead the patient will go about his or her normal life, while a growth called a granuloma begins to surround and encase the sponge or other surgical instrument.

Over time, however, the granuloma may develop into an abscess or may appear to be a tumor. A patient may suddenly begin to experience pain or other symptoms resulting from the retained surgical instrument. At this point, a follow-up surgery will be necessary to remove the foreign body.

Accurate statistics regarding the frequency with which surgical crews leave behind surgical instruments are hard to come by. In part, this is because an unknown number of the cases go by without being detected, either because a patient never lives to experience any adverse symptoms or because of misdiagnosis of the patient's symptoms. Accurate statistics regarding the frequency of gossypiboma are also difficult to obtain because surgeons likely underreport errors due to fears of malpractice liability.

However, the best estimates are that somewhere around 0.01 percent of all surgeries (or one in a thousand surgeries) involve a retained foreign body.1 The vast majority of these cases involve a retained surgical sponge.

In this day and age, a retained surgical sponge or other instrument is virtually always the result of egregious medical malpractice and any medical malpractice lawyer would be happy to help you with your case.

1 Kim HS, Chung TS, Suh SH, Kim SY (April 2007). "MR imaging findings of paravertebral gossypiboma". AJNR Am J Neuroradiol 28 (4): 709-13.