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Sudden Death: Surgical Fire!

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ST. LOUIS — A southern Illinois woman died after being severely burned in a flash fire while undergoing surgery, a rare but vexing problem in operating rooms.

A woman died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, on Sept. 8, six days after being burned on the operating table at Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, Illinois, her family’s attorney said.

Heartland said in a statement only that “there was an accidental flash fire in one of the hospital’s operating rooms,” injuring a patient before being immediately extinguished. The hospital didn’t say how the fire started, but it said, without elaborating, that it was responding with “necessary and appropriate measures.”

Surgical flash fires are most often sparked by electric surgical tools when oxygen builds up under surgical drapes. They occur an estimated 550 to 600 times a year — a tiny fraction of the millions of surgeries performed in the U.S. annually — and only kill about one or two people each year, said Mark Bruley, vice president for accident and forensic investigation at the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit health research agency. From Fox News: Illinois Woman Dies After Catching Fire in Surgery, Friday, September 18, 2009 (Thanks to Jeremy Dozier for this.)

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