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Toxic gas, accidental burns and surgeries gone wrong: A look at medical mistakes in Canada

Local Input~  UNDATED --  Kapka Petrov  --  CREDIT: FAMILY PHOTO (for medical errors story by Alia Dharssi)/pws   (source: From: Kapka Petrov   // 0919 na mederrors

Toxic gas, accidental burns and surgeries gone wrong: A look at medical mistakes in Canada

Alia Dharssi, National Post Staff

apka Petrov never feels hungry. Ever. She has to remember to eat in order to survive.

Her life changed with excruciating stomach pains that began right after gall bladder surgery in 2009. She also needed help to shower, dress, even eat.

Courtesy of Kapka Petrov

Courtesy of Kapka Petrov Kapka Petrov and Prof Gaydarski — the former Bulgarian Minister of Health who operated and found clips left insider her stomach during a previous surgery.

She got no help, she said, from her medical team.

“I would express to doctors how I would feel and they would write in the report that it’s just fine,” says the 40-year-old Toronto mother.

Desperate for a solution after eight hospitalizations in one year, Petrov and her family sought medical care in her native Bulgaria. Doctors there found the cause of the pain — a metal clip holding together various body parts, including the main nerve of her liver and an artery, lodged deep inside her stomach. The surgeon accidentally left it behind in 2009.

“I felt betrayed,” recalls Petrov.

She’s one of many Canadians who have fallen victim to harmful medical errors. In fact, forgetting foreign objects in a patient during surgery is one of 15 predictable and preventable mistakes — called “never events” — listed in a new report by the Health Quality Ontario and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute. The two agencies, which monitor the quality of health care and advise government on improving it, looked at international cases, surveyed Canadian nurses, doctors and other health-care professionals and held an online public consultation to produce the list.

According to a 2004 study, 7.25 per cent of patients — that’s one in 13 people — suffer unintended harm at Canadian hospitals. No one has tracked the numbers since.

“We’re creating a national conversation,” says Joshua Tepper, a physician who is president and chief executive officer of Health Quality Ontario, of the report.


SuppliedKapka Petrov and with Roza Balabanska, a Bulgarian gastroenterlogist, in July 2010

At the top of the list of errors are surgeries gone wrong; things like doctors operating on the wrong body part or patient, carrying out the wrong surgery and forgetting medical equipment in patients’ bodies.

Wrongly administered toxic gas, which can kill, also made the list.

Further mistakes the report discusses include using unsterilized medical equipment, putting the wrong biological material – including the wrong blood type, incompatible organs and the wrong donor sperm – into a patient, giving patients drugs they have a known allergy to, accidental burns, and failure to prevent suicide attempts, infant abductions or baby swaps.

Frightening as it all sounds, Kaveh Shojania, a physician who researches patient safety at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, says that, instead of focusing on these types of uncommon mistakes, policymakers should spend more time solving problems like diagnostic errors that affect many patients.

Tepper disagrees, saying it’s critical to collect data on these issues to understand the size of the problem and to promote best practices.

As for Petrov, she’s speaking to doctors and the public as a patient safety advocate for the Canadian Patient Safety Institute.

“I have chosen to not be a victim,” she says. “I have chosen to speak up and overcome my fears.”

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