Attorney Robert Howerton declined to say why McCall was having surgery. The Tennessee state medical examiner's office said McCall died of complications from thermal burns and classified her death as accidental.
Heartland issued a statement saying "there was an accidental flash fire in one of the hospital's operating rooms," injuring a patient before being immediately extinguished. The hospital didn't say how the fire started.
Surgical flash fires are most often sparked by electric surgical tools when oxygen builds up under surgical drapes. They occur an estimated 550 to 600 times a year—a tiny fraction of the millions of surgeries performed in the U.S. annually—and only kill about one or two people each year, said Mark Bruley, vice president for accident and forensic investigation at the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit health research agency.
Concern over such blazes waned after the 1970s, when highly flammable agents such as ether gave way to safer anesthetics.
But worries have mounted in recent years with increased use of electrosurgical devices and the replacement of cloth hospital drapes with those made of more-flammable, disposable synthetic fabric. Bruley's organization has recommended that anesthesiologists stop using 100 percent oxygen and deliver only what the patient needs, perhaps by diluting the oxygen concentration with room air when surgical tools such as electronic scalpels and cauterizers that could ignite a fire are in use.
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