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December 11, 2013

Lawsuit for Botched Laser Vocal Cord Surgery

In February 2012, an ENT surgeon removed vocal cord polyps using a laser while the patient was asleep with a Medtronic Laser-Shield II endotracheal tube. Unfortunately, the laser perforated the endotracheal tube, ignited the 100% oxygen being used at the time resulting in catastrophic burns to the patient. [link]

Subsequent lawsuit resulted in favor of the patient who received an award totaling $30 million on 12/5/13.

What Happened?

Even though an endotracheal tube meant for use with laser procedures was utilized, if this specially designed tube sustains enough damage from the laser, it will either perforate or heat to a high enough temperature to ignite. Furthermore, 100% oxygen was administered by the anesthesiologist which just added gasoline to the flame.

Ideally, in such laser procedures, meticulous surgical technique is still required and care taken to avoid damaging the endotracheal tube, even if a "laser-safe" tube is used. The "weak" part of any laser-safe tube is the cuff that is inflated to make a tight seal between the trachea and the tube itself. As such, the cuff material is necessarily thin. Saline-soaked pledgets placed immediately above the cuff helps protect the cuff as well as use of a tube with two cuffs (in case one fails). Also, room air should have been administered to the patient in the event the tube fails in order to minimize oxygen in the area... and the patient placed temporarily on apnea whenever the laser is turned on.

The risk of fire among other reasons are why many ENT surgeons (myself included), have stopped using lasers for procedures done in the mouth and airway.

With vocal cord procedures, I still utilize cold steel techniques which has a zero risk of airway fire.

Sources:
Botched surgery will cost hospital. The Wenatchee World. 12/6/13.

Medtronic slips $18M verdict in surgical fire case. MassDevice. 12/10/13


Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids. Google+ Christopher Chang, MD Bio

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