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Suit Cites Forgotten Surgical Towel

Patient complained of something in her chest for years but it wasn't found until an autopsy.

August 07, 2004|From Associated Press

CANTON, Ohio — Relatives of a woman whose surgeon left a rolled-up towel inside her chest have filed a lawsuit against the clinic where the surgery was performed.

Bonnie Valle often complained about an odd feeling in her chest in the years following a procedure at the Cleveland Clinic, family members said Friday.

"She always said, 'On the left side, it feels like there's something there. It felt like something moved,' " said her daughter, Jeanne Clark.

Doctors told Valle that the symptoms reflected the progression of her emphysema and that the benefits of the surgery would not last forever, Clark said.

Valle, who died in June 2002, a day after her 60th birthday, had arranged to have her body donated to the Northeastern Ohio University's College of Medicine. During dissection, a faculty member discovered a green surgical cloth the size of a large hand towel behind her left lung.

Her daughter filed a lawsuit last week seeking unspecified damages against the clinic and her mother's Canton-based physician, Jeffrey Miller. The lawsuit contends that the towel produced costly complications and ultimately caused her mother's death.

"Her body was literally growing around it, trying to isolate it," said Clark's attorney, Mark Okey. "It's a foreign object, and her body was trying to fight it off."

Cleveland Clinic spokesman Cole Hatcher said the hospital had not seen the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation. Dr. Thomas J. Kirby, who performed the surgery, is no longer with the clinic.

A message left seeking comment from Miller was not immediately returned Friday.

Valle, a former nurse's aide, came to the Cleveland Clinic for lung surgery in 1995. Smoking nearly two packs of cigarettes a day since the age of 15 had left her with emphysema and dependent on a machine for a constant supply of oxygen, Clark said.

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