Medical school finds cloth left during surgery
The woman's daughter is suing both the clinic and doctor for damages.
CANTON (AP) -- Bonnie Valle died with a secret not even she knew.
She often complained about an odd feeling in her chest in the years after lung surgery to treat emphysema, family members say. It turns out she had a cloth left in her after surgery.
"She always said, 'On the left side it feels like there's something there. It felt like something moved,'" her daughter, Jeanne Clark, said.
Her doctors told her it was just the progression of the disease and that the benefits of the surgery would not last forever, Clark said.
When Valle died in June 2002, a day after her 60th birthday, she donated her body to the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown.
During a dissection in the anatomy lab, a faculty member discovered a green surgical cloth the size of a large hand towel had been left behind her left lung.
Valle, who lived in Bolivar, south of Canton, hoped the contribution of her body would help doctors develop better treatments for emphysema, Clark said.
"If not for her donating her body, we would have never found out," she said.
Clark filed a lawsuit in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court last week seeking unspecified damages against the Cleveland Clinic, where the surgery was done, and her mother's Canton-based physician, Jeffrey Miller.
The lawsuit contends that because Valle's doctors never found the towel, she suffered serious complications, incurred medical expenses and ultimately died.
"I think it insults common sense to say that a towel left rolled up behind a lung didn't affect the quality and duration of her life," said Atty. Mark Okey, who represents Clark. "I don't believe it, and I don't think a jury will."
Cleveland Clinic spokesman Cole Hatcher said the hospital had not seen the lawsuit yet and does not generally comment on pending litigation. Dr. Thomas J. Kirby, who performed the surgery, is no longer with the Cleveland Clinic.
A message left seeking comment from Miller was not immediately returned Friday.
Valle, a former nurses aide, came to the Cleveland Clinic for lung-reduction surgery in October 1995. Smoking nearly two packs of cigarettes a day since the age of 15 had left her with emphysema and dependent on a constant supply of oxygen, Clark said.
In a letter to the medical school, Miller wrote that he didn't think the towel affected the duration or quality of Valle's life.
"She lived seven years ... which is certainly as well as one would have expected her to survive given her severe emphysema and poor pulmonary function and overall condition," Miller wrote.
Valle's family hired a Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist to perform an autopsy. In his report, the doctor noted a green surgical towel 27 inches by 18 inches covered in a tan combination of formaldehyde, blood and other fluids.
"Her body was literally growing around it, trying to isolate it," Okey said. "It's a foreign object, and her body was trying to fight it off."