The November 1, 2011 episode of The Today Show had an interesting segment about fires occurring in the operating room. The segment discussed Lauren Wargo, a teenager who underwent surgery to remove a mole four years ago. During that procedure, a fire broke out. The operating room staff was ill equipped, and not trained, to handle the fire. As a result, Lauren suffered second-degree burns on her face and body, and permanent eye damage. Fortunately for Lauren, the majority of her scars have healed, and those that currently remain can be covered with makeup. However, she will have to endure a lifetime of vision problems, along with the horrific memories, resulting from this preventable disaster.
According to the FDA, approximately 650 operating room fires occur annually. However, The Today Show reports that this number underestimates the true incidence of operating room fires, because only 27 states have laws requiring medical providers to report when fires occur.
To combat this problem, the Federal Drug Administration has started a Surgical Fire Safety Initiative, which anesthesiologist, Charles E. Cowles, Jr., M.D., is spearheading. Dr. Cowles, who practices at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, is a former volunteer firefighter. In the Today Show report, Dr. Cowles stated that in virtually all OR fires, three elements are present: (1) oxygen; (2) the use of isopropyl alcohol to sterilize patients, instruments, and healthcare providers; and (3) an ignition source. It is extremely common for the ignition source to be an electrocautery device. Dr. Cowles also believes that almost all operating room fires are preventable, and that most healthcare professionals working in operating rooms lack the training necessary to properly handle these events. More information about the FDA’s Surgical Fire Safety Initiative can be found at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/SafeUseInitiative/PreventingSurgicalFires/ucm20026140.htm.
If you or a loved one is undergoing surgery in the near future, take the following steps to prevent yourself from being injured:
(1) Ask your healthcare providers if the proposed surgical procedure presents a fire risk; and
(2) Ask the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and other OR staff if they have received training, and know proper procedures, on how to safely combat an operating room fire.
Lauren Wargo’s tale is a cautionary one, and thank goodness that her injuries from an operating room fire were not as severe as they could have been. Nonetheless, it is absolutely imperative that our healthcare providers take appropriate measures to combat this deadly threat. The FDA’s initiative is a good first step, but our healthcare providers need to receive more hands-on training in order to be fully prepared.
Watch The Today Show segment here: Woman in Operating Room Fire Sparks Safety Concerns