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2 surgical sponges removed 4 years after man’s initial surgery

MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA) — A central Illinois man had to go in for a second surgery after medical objects were left inside him.

He got the first surgery in May 2014. The second one was in April.

He said he had no idea there’s a statute of limitations that puts a time limit on when a lawsuit can be filed.

Larry Diener and his wife, Kathy, often sit on the porch to pass the time. Just a few months ago, though, they weren’t sure how much time he had left.

“I wouldn’t have been here anymore,” he said. “It was that bad.”

He said he started getting sick with high fevers and shortness of breath.

“They treated it with antibiotics, what, three times, and it would go away and come back, go away and come back,” he explained.

After the back-and-forth for a few months, his doctor ordered a CT scan.

“The day they did the CT scan, it was at 7:30 in the morning, and they told me that I’d probably hear from them the next week,” he said. “That day about 12:20 my phone rang, and it was my doctor, nurse, ‘Dr. Richards wants to see you this afternoon.’ Things really go through your mind then.” 

He said when you get a call like that, you think the worst.

“It could have been prevented, should have been,” he said “Shouldn’t have been there. Shouldn’t have happened.” 

What they found were two surgical sponges that were left inside him nearly four years ago.

“My body was starting, I guess, starting to eat it up, just disintegrated,” he explained. “Nobody could believe that I fought this off for four years, basically. It always shows up, if you ask them, it always shows up within two years. Well, it didn’t with me.”

The doctor who performed his first surgery, Dr. Curtis Green, had to go back in to remove them.

“They’re supposed to count them going in and count them coming out,” he said. “Their answer to this problem is they’ve taken precautions to prevent this from happening since then, and they said it’s never happened since then, well how do we know? It took just under four years.”

Dr. James Hildebrandt is the vice president of medical affairs at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, and he stands by Dr. Green. Over the phone, Hildebrandt said they’re aware of the medical history of all of their doctors and that the surgeon is excellent despite past instances. Even though they do at times make mistakes, he said, they try to learn from them. 

“They made an offer,” Diener said. “It was a slap in the face. I turned them down flat. A lot of people, I think would have took it, and it would have been nice, but it wasn’t even close to what it should have been.”

And he seems to think this happens more often than people think.

“It’s not supposed to happen to me, but it did,” he said. “It can happen to anybody else.”

This isn’t the first time Dr. Green has been in this situation. According to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, in 2015, a nearly $600,000 settlement of a claim occurred. WICA media partners, the Effingham Daily News, report that was for a gall bladder removal that left a man jaundiced, and he had to have a corrective surgery in St. Louis.

As for the statute of limitations, lawyers say, that can get complicated.

Medical malpractice lawyer Tom Koester said it starts with a two-year limit from the time someone finds out there’s an issue, which, in Diener’s case, would be the CT scan.

It also must be within four years of the date of the occurrence. That would have been them leaving the sponges in him, which was almost four-years to the day of Diener’s scan. 

In some cases, if someone is seeing a doctor for pain or discomfort after the initial surgery, lawyers still might have a case.

“It begs the question, well why didn’t that physician do an appropriate diagnostic study to determine that was the source of this person’s problem and therefore there could be a potential medical malpractice claim against that physician for failing to discover it’s existence?” Koester said.

He also said not to be afraid to get a second opinion and talk with another lawyer.