New York residents may have read media stories about surgical sponges being left inside patients who underwent surgery, but they may not know how serious the long-term consequences of this kind of medical mistake can be. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine told the story of a 42-year-old Japanese woman who suffered abdominal bloating and discomfort for years that was eventually found to have been caused by two surgical sponges that had been left inside her during childbirth.

A medical records check revealed that the woman had undergone Caesarean sections six and nine years ago. Her doctors believed that both of the sponges were left in her abdomen during one of these procedures. The sponges were removed during emergency surgery that was performed after a CT scan revealed two unusual masses in her paracolic gutters. Thick fibrous coating that covered them had to be cut away. The NEJOM article revealed that doctors often place sponges in the paracolic gutters to prevent the intestines from interfering with abdominal surgery.

While this kind of surgical error is quite rare, a 2010 study of more than 1.9 million patient records suggests that surgical instruments like sponges being left inside patients is a particularly serious problem among girls under the age of 18 who undergo gynecological surgery. The researchers discovered that these girls were four times more likely than male children to have foreign objects left inside them during surgery and were also presented with hospital bills that were more than $35,000 higher.

Personal injury attorneys with experience in medical malpractice cases may consult with medical specialists and other experts when it is not clear which doctor or hospital made an error. Attorneys might call on surgeons to assess the procedures involved to determine where mistakes could have been made, and medical billing specialists may be asked to analyze hospital bills for unusual charges.