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Patient Dies from Burns Received in Nebraska Operating Room Fire


November 30, 2004

(AP) -- An 86-year-old woman has died one month after receiving severe burns to her head, neck and shoulders in a hospital operating room fire.

The patient, Maxine Stryker received the burns that took her life during what should have been a routine biopsy procedure at Methodist Hospital in Omaha.

A malpractice lawsuit has been filed against the hospital, surgeons and anesthesiologist, said Stryker's attorney, Michael Dowd.

Bed linens or a neck roll supporting her head caught fire during a routine procedure, causing Stryker's head, neck and shoulders to be engulfed in flames, Dowd said. ``Her burns were absolutely horrendous.'' he said.

Dowd said Stryker checked into the hospital for a bowel obstruction and a colonoscopy. Doctors then scheduled a cervical mediastinoscopy, a procedure commonly used when doctors want to test lymph nodes for cancer.

Dowd said Stryker was unconscious during the Oct. 22 procedure. He said medical records indicate that a cautery unit - a device that uses intense heat to stanch blood or destroy tissue - was used to cut through fatty tissue.

At some point, the records indicate that doctors noticed an odd smell.

``It became apparent that there was a wisp of smoke coming from behind the patient's head,'' Dowd said, citing medical records.

Stryker's burns were so severe that she had to undergo extensive skin grafts and developed pneumonia from being bedridden for four days, Dowd said.

Methodist spokesman Ed Rider said the hospital is still investigating the fire. However, he said, he has "no evidence that (the fire) was caused by an equipment malfunction."

Rider called it an "unfortunate accident." He said hospital officials couldn't comment further because of the pending litigation.

"We are . . . upset and saddened by Mrs. Stryker's death this morning," he said, "and we do send out our deepest condolences to her family."

Such fires are rare, though they may be underreported.

Hospitals have not been required to keep statistics on operating-room fires. Only about 100 to 200 fires are reported nationally each year. There are about 50 million inpatient and outpatient surgeries performed each year.

Even so, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations issued a warning last year about the potentially combustible combination of oxygen, flammable linens and flame-starters, such as cautery devices or lasers, in operating rooms. The national group said fires cause 20 serious injuries and one or two patient deaths a year.





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