(CBS) — A woman who had surgery found out years later, a foreign object had been left inside her. She wants to know how this could happen and how it could go undiagnosed for years, leaving her in constant pain. But as CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini found out, this type of surgical mistake is shockingly common.
He has this Original Report.
Sarah Cunningham says having the thin, opaque object left inside her was just the beginning of the medical blunders and her troubles. She says she wants to know what exactly it is and who left it in her body.
In 2010, Cunningham had back surgery at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora. Then, in 2011, Cunningham’s daughter was born via a C-section performed at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.
Then for years, she says she suffered from intense chronic abdominal pain, “A sharp stabbing pain, would wake me up.”
She says the pain sent her repeatedly to Central DuPage Hospital’s emergency room to figure out what was wrong.
“If I showed up for treatment, it was like I was a drug seeker, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you,'” said Cunningham.
She even had two CT scans at Central DuPage Hospital.
Then in 2015, she switched to a different hospital, Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights. There, another scan was done and that is when Cunningham learned about the foreign object inside her.
“I was shocked,” said Cunningham.
More shock after she went back to Central DuPage and got her old records. Her two CT scans, taken just months apart in 2013, both indicated a foreign object inside her. She says doctors knew about the foreign object years ago, “And didn’t even tell me.”
She has hired attorney Laird Ozmon.
“She was being told… very directly, that it was all in her head. That she’s crazy,” said Ozmon. “There was an obligation to get it out of there.”
A law was passed years ago requiring hospitals to report this type of surgical mistake to the state. But a state official says reporting is not happening because it was an unfunded mandate.
Foreign objects left in surgical patients are only voluntarily reported by hospitals to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Records from there show Illinois had a 49% increase in this problem with 67 cases in 2009, and 100 cases in 2013.
Dr. Ronald Wyatt, with The Joint Commission which accredits hospitals, heads a unit that investigates foreign object cases.
“It can lead to infection. It can lead to death,” said Dr. Wyatt. “There are probably two to four thousand of these events that occur in the U.S. per year. It’s vastly underreported and that is a significant issue as well.”
He says sponges are most often what is left behind.
In Cunningham’s case, it is still unclear exactly what the object is that was left inside her or who left it there.
“The anger, the hurt, is still there constantly – day after day,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham’s lawyer says she likely cannot file a lawsuit against whoever left the object in her, because she did not find out about it in time.
Rush-Copley Medical Center had no comment because of patient privacy.
Central DuPage sent the following statement: “We are committed to providing patients with safe, high-quality care and an exceptional patient experience. Patient safety is our highest priority and we take all patient concerns seriously. We are thoroughly reviewing this matter and we have reached out to the patient to discuss the situation. However, based on the information we currently have, we believe that the foreign object that was recently removed from the patient was not in a location consistent with any procedures performed at Central DuPage Hospital. Given that this matter is under internal review, we are unable to provide additional information at this time.”