- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Inova Alexandria Hospital officials yesterday said they “fully regret” a freak surgical fire that badly injured a 60-year-old patient.

“We’re in the process of providing support and assistance to the patient who was injured,” Inova spokesman Che Parker said. “We fully regret what happened.”

Rita Talbert, of Stafford, Va., has filed a lawsuit in Alexandria Circuit Court seeking $5 million. She sustained second- and third-degree burns when her face, neck and chest caught fire during thyroid surgery two years ago at the hospital.

The Washington Times reported the lawsuit yesterday.

Mr. Parker said Inova has received a copy of the complaint and hospital attorneys are “evaluating our position.”

It is not clear whether Inova plans to contest the lawsuit and proceed to a jury trial. The lawsuit names as defendants a surgeon, an anesthesiologist and other hospital staff as well as Inova Alexandria.

“We want to resolve this situation fairly,” Mr. Parker said.

According to the complaint, Mrs. Talbert underwent six reconstructive operations after being “badly disfigured” by the fire.

Medical records obtained by The Times through an attorney for Mrs. Talbert show that an internal hospital memo on the incident stated that she was taken to Washington Hospital Center for treatment of the burns.

The memo suggested that “pooling of oxygen” under a mask attached to Mrs. Talbert and an electrosurgical device might have caused the fire.

The memo said “a flash” erupted and that “the fire was put out within seconds.”

Mr. Parker said the surgical fire was an isolated incident.

Cathy Lake, of Frederick, Md., started a Web site, www.surgicalfire.org, after her mother was burned during surgery at Washington Hospital Center.

She said hospitals aren’t required to report surgical fires.

“There’s no mandatory tracking, and that’s a problem,” she said yesterday. “It doesn’t happen often, but it happens more than people think.”

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