Patients Suffer Burns in Operating Room Fires

When you head to the hospital to go under the knife, patients often have a lot of concerns, but catching on fire usually isn't one of them. A South Florida man said that is what happened to him and the NBC 6 Investigators found it happens more often than you might think.

"It was something I would never want to feel again and wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," said Vince Anthony.

The Army veteran went to the hospital to get a cyst removed from his forehead. But while he was under the knife and under anesthesia, the surgical tool caught the cloths wrapped around his face on fire.

"It just shot into my nose and burned up my nose inside and out," Anthony explained.  "My lips were cooked, ear, my eye, everything. Oxygen and sparks don't mix."

Anthony's face was covered with 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

A similar scenario happened to a great-grandmother in Fort Lauderdale. Adele Bearman, 89, went to Holy Cross Hospital for a biopsy in 2013. A surgical flash fire burned more than 25 percent of her body. She died five months later.

Surgical fires are rare but they're a big enough concern for safety groups to warn and educate doctors about what not to do.

In Florida alone, there have been 125 hospital fires reported to Florida's Agency for Healthcare Administration in the past five years. 

There are about 650 operating room fires a year nationwide, but that number may be low because not every state requires hospitals to report fires or specify whether that fire originated in the operating room.

"At no time was I ever told that this was even a possibility," Anthony said.

NBC 6 cameras were rolling as a fire department demonstrated just how quickly the flames can ignite and spread in the presence of administered oxygen. On a test dummy, the clothes and hair net caught fire immediately. The oxygen, alcohol and cloths helped spark and fuel the fire.

Vince Anthony's injuries have healed on the outside but he said he's still struggling with what happened.

"I hope that somebody watches this and uses it to save their life," Anthony said. "It's a conversation you need to have with your surgeon. You just have to say, 'Listen, where are you on the level of precautions and are you following all of the procedures?'" he said.

Anthony settled a lawsuit with the out-of-state hospital. In court documents, the hospital said it acted responsibly and with care.

The family of Adele Bearman also settled a lawsuit from her death.

Holy Cross Hospital sent a statement to NBC 6:  "Following the 2013 incident, we assessed the circumstances and introduced additional training and other surgical safety related procedures. Holy Cross remains committed to the safety and well-being of our patients."

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