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Oxygen tube ignites in ER, burns woman

POSTED March 13, 2012 10:08 p.m.

On Oct. 16, 2011, 68-year-old Shirley Shook was brought into Emanuel Medical Center’s emergency room to stop a bleeding wound on her neck. Almost five months later she remains hospitalized after sustaining burns when flames erupted from her oxygen tube, sparked by a cauterizing pen her doctor was using to close the wound.

Shook’s attorney, Carlo Garcia, said she has suffered physical complications stemming from the accidental fire and emotional trauma, which he says is exacerbated by the fact that she remains under Emanuel’s care at Brandel Manor.

“She expected the hospital to take care of her and they set her on fire and now she can’t leave,” Garcia said.

Shook, a Delhi resident, came into EMC on Oct. 16, 2011, because her stoma would not stop bleeding. Shook’s stoma was created surgically 10 years ago when an opening was made on the front of her neck during a tracheostomy.

According to the nurse’s log, which was obtained by Garcia, Shook’s wound was being suctioned every 30 minutes, but the bleeding was getting worse.

The emergency room doctor attending to Shook attempted to stop the bleeding by using a cauterizing pen, which emits a small flame. The pen ignited the nasal cannula delivering oxygen to Shook.

The nurse’s log states the doctor tried turning off the nasal cannula with his hands and was burned in the process.

The fire was extinguished when the nurse pulled the tubing from the oxygen supply on the wall.

The nurse wrote in the log that the doctor diagnosed the burns to Shook as first-degree, with no blistering on site. A first-degree burn is similar to a sunburn.

Garcia said the flames burned Shook’s face, chin, neck and a part of her chest.

Attempts were made to transfer Shook to another hospital because the stoma needed to be surgically repaired, but no other hospitals were willing to take on the responsibility, according to Garcia.

“They don’t want to clean up after Emanuel Medical Center,” Garcia said.

No lawsuit has been filed at this time. Garcia said he is waiting to see how negotiations with the hospital proceed.

“I’ve extended an olive branch and am waiting to hear their proposal,” Garcia said. “A life care plan and getting her back to some semblance of independence are the goals.”

Patient confidentiality laws prohibit EMC from commenting directly on Shook’s case, but hospital spokesperson Pennie Rorex did stress the facility’s commitment to safety.

“Emanuel Medical Center is strongly committed to a culture of patient safety,” Rorex wrote in an e-mail. “Patient safety and effective patient care outcomes go hand in hand and are our top priorities. At all levels of our organization, we are committed to a safe environment for our patients.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates there are about 550 to 650 surgical fires every year. The agency launched a national prevention initiative last year to bring attention to the issue.

Rorex noted that “surgical fires are an incredibly rare occurrence at hospitals.”

EMC’s emergency doctors are employed through Valley Emergency Physicians.

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