'Flash fire' ignites in man’s chest during emergency heart surgery

Aussie Doctors Had To Put Out A Fire In Patient's Chest During Open Heart Surgery

Aussie Doctors Had To Put Out A Fire In Patient's Chest During Open Heart Surgery

The Austin Health team stated in their report that chest cavity fires are uncommon, with only six reported cases between 2001 and 2018.

"While there are only a few documented cases of chest cavity fires-three involving thoracic surgery and three involving coronary bypass grafting-all have involved the presence of dry surgical packs, electrocautery, increased inspired oxygen concentrations, and patients with COPD or pre-existing lung disease", Ruth Shaylor, MD, a doctor from Austin Health in Melbourne, where the fire took place, said in a press release from the annual meeting.

The odd case was reported by the doctors this weekend at the Euroanaesthesia Congress, the annual convention of the European Society of Anaesthesiology. He was immediately prepared for emergency heart surgery to fix the damage.

But the patient's chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD, meant he had air-filled blisters, which doctors punctured, leading to a leak. This severely complicated the medical procedure for the doctors.

To reach the patient's heart, the surgeons first had to open his sternum, which is the bone found in the middle of the chest.

The presenters said that the patient, a 60-year-old man, was in surgery last year for the fix of a tear in the inner layer of the aorta wall in the chest, according to the European Society of Anaesthesiology. Doctors then increased the amount of oxygen in the patient's anesthesia to prevent respiratory distress.

Part of the surgery required the use of electrocautery, a device that uses heat to burn away or cut through tissue.

The surgeons also suggested that avoiding dry surgical packs is probably a good way of mitigating this risk. This is a bundle used by doctors to carry sterilized surgical instruments during an operation.

Disaster struck right after the doctors changed the patient's air.

However things didn't play out as expected and a spark from the electrocautery device - a heating device used to stop vessels from bleeding - ignited a dry surgical pack. They were also able to fix the man's damaged artery and wrap up the surgery without any more untoward incidents.

That's when a flash fire broke out. No injuries were reported during these events.

When you think about the risks of surgery, "fire" usually doesn't come to mind. "Most people are aware of how unsafe these three elements combined can be", said the report.

She warned: 'Surgeons and anaesthetists need to be aware that fires can occur in the chest cavity if a lung is damaged or there is an air leak for any reason'.