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Finding out that a medical object was left inside you after a surgical procedure is finished is one of a patient’s worst nightmares. While considered a rare event, it should never happen at all.

Unfortunately, a Tennessee family is now grieving the loss of one of its members after a surgical needle was left inside a patient’s chest following heart surgery. The patient ultimately died.

The 73-year-old man underwent a nine-hour surgery at a Nashville hospital. When it was over, the surgeon realized that he had left the tool inside the patient’s chest. The hospital used X-rays to confirm what had happened and locate the needle. A second surgeon attempted to get the needle out, but wasn’t able to do so. However, it’s unclear if the surgeon couldn’t locate the instrument or found it too risky to disturb.

Over the month following the initial procedure, the patient’s condition declined. He was never able to leave the intensive care unit. Family members say that their loved one’s death was needlessly painful and could have been prevented if the surgeon had been more careful.

Surgical negligence is a serious issue. There are procedures in place that are designed to account for every item that is used in surgery — from tools like surgical needles and clamps to tiny items like sponges and cloths. Just the same, medical objects end up left behind in patients about once in every 5,500 surgeries.

In many cases, objects left behind in surgery contribute to a patient’s distress and become a source of infection or pain. At the very least, a misplaced surgical object leads to another surgery, additional risks from anesthesia and increased healing time. In the worst cases — like this one — they can lead to an otherwise-avoidable death.

If you or your family member falls victim to this kind of surgical negligence, it’s important to consider all your options for seeking compensation via legal action.