A NSW woman has been awarded the right to sue her former surgeon after he left a surgical sponge inside her abdomen for more than ten years.
Helen Caroline Anne O'Hagan underwent surgery to remove a section of her bowel on August 10 1992. The court heard that the operation was performed at the Poplars Private Hospital in the north-west Sydney suburb of Epping.
Mrs O'Hagan claims that Dr Samuel Sakker failed to remove the sponge during the course of the operation and that it resulted in a cyst the size of a grapefruit.
The sponge was discovered when Mrs O'Hagan underwent an X-ray in 2007 that showed the mass. It was removed by surgeons the same day.
However, the doctor who removed the sponge did not tell Mrs O'Hagan at the time that her earlier surgery was the only way it could have made its way into her abdominal cavity.
The news came to light only when she sought a consultation with him earlier this year, during which he confessed his suspicions to Mrs O'Hagan. She filed a statement of claim through medical negligence lawyers three months later.
Dr Sakker claimed to be unable to find records relating to Mrs O'Hagan's surgery, nor was he able to recall performing any sort of abdominal surgery on the complainant. The former surgeon - who retired in 2007 - also related that it was standard procedure to count off the surgical materials used during an operation, rendering the chance of leaving an implement in a patient highly unlikely.
However, Mrs O'Hagan's husband John told the court that he recalls talking with Dr Sakker on the day of his wife's surgery. The doctor had indicated to Mr O'Hagan that the partial colectomy had gone well with no complications.
The defendant's lawyers also sought to have the case dismissed, claiming it was unlikely that she should have made the connection between her previous surgery and ongoing abdominal complaints so late. However, district court judge Leonard Levy found that it was "not glaringly or inherently improbable" that Mrs O'Hagan was too distracted by other medical issues to pursue legal action at the time.
Patients who may have experienced cases of medical malpractice would do well to speak to a compensation lawyer as soon as possible, as these cases are subject to the statute of limitations, meaning that patients can only file a claim within a certain time limit.