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Trisha Torrey

Melissa and Her Gossypiboma Need Your Ideas

By August 6, 2011

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I hear so frequently from patients who are having one challenge or another with the healthcare system. I can usually reply with a suggestion that at least gives them something to try.... but when Melissa wrote to me, I had no new ideas for her.

Melissa is a young woman who lives near Philadelphia, PA. She has a 7-year-old daughter. And because her situation is so horrible, and so dire, I'm asking for your help. (With her vehement approval, by the way.)

In 2003, Melissa had a c-section. After the surgery, she experienced pain immediately (even beyond typical surgical pain) and for years (YEARS) was treated for infections.

But those infections never seemed to go away. Melissa's internist suspected there might be some foreign body left inside her, but imaging couldn't prove that for a long time. Finally, last December, new imaging showed that yes, there was some sort of foreign body - a sponge, a piece of gauze, or some other something, inside her body. It could only have been left behind after her c-section. It's still there.

Over these seven years, Melissa has been to doctor after doctor, trying to alleviate her pain. Once they finally figured out that, yes, it was a foreign body called a gossypiboma (a retained surgical sponge) she began making appointments with surgeons to get it removed.

So far, they have all refused to help her. NO ONE - will remove it. She has met with a dozen surgeons, some have even scheduled surgery, but when the time comes, they bow out and tell her they are unwilling to do the surgery.

Desperate, Melissa wrote to me and asked if I had any ideas for her. I suggested she find an attorney to negotiate with a surgeon, perhaps some sort of "hold harmless" agreement. But Melissa tells me that while the attorneys she has talked to all agree that even though shes has an excellent chance of winning a malpractice lawsuit, none will work with her until after she has had the removal surgery.

I can surmise a few reasons why these surgeons are turning her down:

  • They fear a lawsuit themselves if the removal itself becomes problematic.
  • They don't want to be involved in a lawsuit that would be filed against the colleague (or friend) who left the original object inside her.
  • They are being threatened, told by the hospital that was involved in the original surgical mistake, that they will lose their privileges to practice at that hospital.
  • They are being told by their malpractice insurers that they will not be covered if they perform that removal surgery on Melissa.

No matter what the reasons, Melissa is sick, in pain - and stuck. No one will help her.

So - that's what I am trying to do. I'm not a surgeon, so I can't remove that gossybipoma. I'm not a doctor with connections to others, nor do I have any leverage with hospitals or insurers.

Are you a surgeon who can help her? Do you know a surgeon who can help her? Melissa lives near Philadelphia, but I feel sure she would travel somewhere else to get the surgery if she could find the help.

Or do you know an attorney who would be willing to negotiate on her behalf? Who might be able to talk a surgeon into helping her?

Please comment below - provide whatever suggestions you can think of, even if you don't know if they would work.

Help Melissa out of this desperate situation, please!

Learn more about surgical errors and other never events.

Learn more about patient safety.

--------> Find an update on Melissa's situation here.

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Agree? Disagree?
Share your experience or join the conversation!


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Photo from Wikimedia Commons (Ali Aminian; Cases Journal 2008, 1:220 doi:10.1186/1757-1626-1-220 )

August 6, 2011 at 9:24 pm
(1) Lee Tilson says:

I am volunteering to solve the problem. How may I contact Trisha and the patient?

August 6, 2011 at 10:09 pm
(2) Lee Tilson says:

I have e mailed the e mail address above. I will try.
I was working on this fundraiser to help a Thalidomide amputee walk again. http://www.missionmymobility.bbnow.org/
I will take a break from that project to assist this Pennsylvanian.

August 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm
(3) Kim says:

Will you keep us posted on how you are doing, Melissa, and let us know when this gets resolved. How horrible for you. And how scary for all of us!

August 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm
(4) theresa says:

Lee, i am hoping you are serious about helping her. She is very sick and needs help. Please do this for her and her family!!!

August 7, 2011 at 11:31 am
(5) Ken Farbstein says:

Melissa, I’m sorry this happened to you.

You may need to look outside the U.S.

August 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm
(6) Sandy Stacey says:

Melissa, I am a medical assistant. There is a good teaching site, (in case you and Lee want to see a pathology discussion from ultrasound, radiogagraphic and pathology standpoint), at http://brighamrad.harvard.edu/Cases/bwh/hcache/391/full.html. I was thinking as a read this article regarding you–isn’t there any surgeon brave enough to help? Yay. Lee sounds like the guy to either set it up or get it done! I also think that going back to the original surgeon, if that is at all possible would be good, to give him the opportunity to undo what’s been done–not to condemn but for corrective purpose, settle out of court without malpractice and ask that your medical bills from onset are reimbursed or paid off and that’s all–in a sense get rid of your pain and give forgiveness as a gift to the one who might have caused it. Just a thought. I pray for Lee to hear from his inner man and know exactly what to do to help you each step he takes in the case. I pray for total restoration and health for you so you can be a mother, produce good for God’s purposes while you live your life on earth and use your talents. Amen! Perhaps you will be able to share your experience with others in a positive way and empower them in their situations to be proactive. God bless you.

August 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm
(7) Jen says:

This tragic story is one of how Medical Politics again is getting in the way of the patient’s care. This story should and would outrage John Q Public, however, most of us who are already privy to patient safety matters, it does not surprise us at all. This story has gone beyond the scope of patient engagement and patient empowerment. The actual revelation of the sponge being factual is why there is so much trouble getting other good providers involved. The political environment in medicine regarding litigation continues to get in the way of follow up care. This story is not uncommon, most of the time the patient never knows of the foreign object as it is quietly removed during follow up routine procedures. I agree with Ken and encourage Melissa to reach out to WHO and other international patient safety groups.

August 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm
(8) Jen says:

To better understand the concept of Medical Politics, please read these informative articles by Pearl Korn in the Huffington Post: Our Unsafe Healthcare System Is The Issue, Not Caps on Tort Settlements
Tort Reform: An Elephant In The Room

August 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm
(9) Jen says:

For more on Medical Politics, please read these informative Huffington Post articles by Pearl Korn:
Our Unsafe Healthcare System Is The Issue, Not Caps on Tort Settlements

Tort Reform: An Elephant In The Room

August 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm
(10) macman2 says:

In general, hospitals where you had the original surgery do not want to risk the malpractice suit and will offer to remove the foreign object for free if you discuss this with the hospital administration’s risk management department. I would try to contact them and explain that you want this foreign object removed and if they don’t you plan on approaching a lawyer.

August 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm
(11) Wayne Parsons says:

Hi Melissa: I have sent the medical background the a national network of attorneys who have formed a group, called The Injury Board, dedicated to safety, prevention and to helping people like you find the best medical care. We will get back to you about possible medical resources for treatment. Please contact me privately to discuss this in more depth.

Wayne Parsons

August 8, 2011 at 1:18 am
(12) danielle says:

there are some medical teaching schools that will do elective procedures to help other learn… I think Temple is one. A fast response is usually emergency room…go to the ER screaming in pain and dont stop screaming until they do a emergency surgery. Hope you have relief from you pain soon. god bless

August 8, 2011 at 2:21 am
(13) Emeth says:

I will be praying for you and checking back on this page. Please keep us updated.

August 8, 2011 at 8:28 am
(14) Ginger says:

First of all, the hospital which injured Melissa has caused me grief twice. Once they biopsied the incorrect side of my body, only to leave me unaware of their mistake for an entire year. Not until I had a follow up biopsy at another hospital, was this discovered. These doctors, hospitals and lawyers can all be very secretive and sinister. Another time I went to the same hospital that did this to Melissa for a routine knee surgery and they herniated four of my cervical discs. Did they drop me? Did they twist me the wrong way, I don’t know how, I was under anesthesia. Of course it wasn’t in the surgical records because they all cover for each other. I had a lawyer who said that this was a slam dunk case, but he backed out, suddenly, after a year and a half. The next lawyer I saw said that what they did to me was very, very wrong, and that he would use his own money to prove it, and not even take it from whatever money was recovered. One month later, he had my records delivered to my front door without so much as an explanation. Someone is paying someone off on the side so that the injured party gets no justice. Melissa I have been praying for you for a long time and I know you have been praying for me too. Someone has got to help you. I will continue to ask God to help you. You are a wonderful person and this never should have happened to you.

August 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm
(15) melissa seminra says:

Thank you all so much for the overwhelming response- I am so sorry that I havent been as active on here- my health sad to say cannot be worst than it is right now- i have minimal energy but am still trying to fight. It has really wreaked havoc lately on my body and all my levels and functions are out of whack- it needs to come out- as soon as I get a chance I will read through all of these- thank u all so much you dont know what it means!

August 8, 2011 at 6:36 pm
(16) Althea says:

Hi Melissa,
I am so sorry for this terrible thing that you are dealing with. My heart goes out to you, and my prayers goes up for you. I am standing for you that you may receive the help you truly need and deserve. You are the innocent one in the situation and it is sad to see that you are the one being treated as if you have done something wrong, other than goin to a hospital to have your wonderful bundle of blessing. May you find healing soon, and live a painfree life.

With love…

August 9, 2011 at 9:49 am
(17) Char Brooks says:

Hi Melissa:

I can hear how much pain you are in. You and your family are in my prayers and I pray that the right medical care comes through very soon for you.

August 9, 2011 at 11:54 am
(18) Rosemary says:

Try the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. Main number 1-781-744-5100. Though not due to a retained foreign body, I was in similar situation and Lahey was the only place that dealt with me. Has been 4 years now and so far so good! (I had sustained a serious gut injury at another facility and it took me 13 months, seeing 11 surgeons at 7 medical centers until the full extent of my damages could be diagnosed. The doc at Lahey was the only one who had the skill, knowledge, and willlingness to confidently do a tricky procedure to save my life.

Also the patient advocate at any of the hospitals Melissa has already tried is a good person to contact, especially if other docs at these other hospitals agreed to help, then backed out at the last minute. My understanding is that the patient advocate at every hospital reports direct to the CEO. If she wanted this dealt with closer to home, she should call the patient advocate at these hospitals and explain the situation.

If she is OK to travel, have her contact Lahey and ask ahead if they will be willing to help. Offering to sign some kind of waiver might be a productive gesture. I am guessing that Lahey will give her an honest appraisal. I think what the docs are fearing is that the sponge may be scarred to her small intestine. Small intestine scarring is very tricky to deal with as when either adhesions (as was my case) or foreign body is removed from the small intestine, it is easy for the intestine to rip. Unfortunately the doc who saved my life has since retired. But give them a try. All my best to Melissa. Sign me, Been There, Rosemary

August 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm
(19) Taliba says:

Melissa, my heart goes out to you for what you’ve been through in this ordeal! I hope that a decent physician with the guts and integrity to right this wrong has come forward that you’ll get the help that you need ASAP!

Jen, Thanks for the link to the Huffington Post article. I was SO glad to see the reference to PTSD, which I know that I am suffering from due to decades of bungling from countless numbers of doctors. It’s so true that you simply cannot mobilize or be taken seriously when you are suffering from the effects of PTSD.

Trish, I would love to see an article discussing the prevalence of PTSD amongst injured/misdiagnosed patients, and how the medical system re-doubles the injury by then refusing to diagnose and treat the PTSD that THEY caused. My life turned into a nightmare at the age of 17 with a cancer diagnosis, but even that was nothing compared to the incompetence and cover ups that have taken place since with regard to the treatment effects. My family are all health professionals, and sided with the doctors so I was completely abandoned.

Thanks so much for writing this column, keep telling our stories!!

August 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm
(20) Rosemary says:

I second the motion on the PTSD due to iatrogenic injury and the injured patient’s desperate search for help. Though I went on with my life and have done many enjoyable things since having my life saved, I still have severe PTSD.

Only now after 4 years, have I found the right kind of therapy to address this. Due to many doc’s covering for the original docs who committed the injury, many of us are labeled as hypochondriacs, crazy, and so on.

A general practitioner actually wrote that I had Munchausen’s. (This PCP did not have a degree in psychiatry and was not certified to make that statement.) Munchausen’s is where patients supposedly like to get hurt so they can seek more help from more docs. This was actually libel/slander against me as it was not true. I had taught school for 17 years before my iatrogenic injury and I have travelled non-stop since I got fixed up the best that could be done to save my life. This is not the mark of someone with Munchausen’s. I did get that false statement retracted by that PCP, but this is a sample of the further psychological injury that iatrogenically injured patients are needlessly subjected to.

This further slamming of injured patients MUST be stopped!


August 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm
(21) Dr Richard Willner says:

Melissa and others,

Perhaps we can help. Contact me, please, today.

Dr Richard Willner
The Center for Peer Review Justice

New Orleans, LA

August 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm
(22) Lee Tilson says:

I am going through my problem solving checklist with Melissa now.

Rule 1: Do not re invent the wheel. See who has already solved the problem. Try what has worked in the past.

Rule 7: What resources are available to address the problem.

I welcome any and all suggestions for resources. We will “get ‘er done.”

August 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm
(23) Dr Richard Willner says:

While you guys were doing strategy, we did have a surgeon and a gyn to do the surgery lined up.

For whatever reason, my message here was deleted. I have sent repeated messages to everyone.

Good luck

Dr Richard Willner

August 10, 2011 at 11:18 am
(24) Donna says:

So sorry for what you are dealing with.Hearing this really hits home.I am dealing with some similar issues in trying to get damage assessed.Medical tests are refused and I have also had to deal with questionable past radiology reports being truthful.Concealment of damage and injuries is a way to stop a patient from bringing a lawsuit.If you see the continued amending of radiology reports with the original report missing its a red flag.
I really question why it took so long for this to show up on a test.Is it possible you were giving the run a round so you could not find out.
I can give you an example.I had a bone scan done that claims my spine is perfect with no findings with no abnormalities and it states in particular “no abnormalities in the cervical spine”. I questioned the validity of these results and was immediately stopped from having an MRI.Even at a private clinic with me paying for the MRI.
With help I was able to get the test done after I left the area. The MRI shows I have scoliosis,herniated discs,end plate spurring etc.,osteoprosis …plus it states the maximal amount of damage in my cervical spine.An x-ray shows ossification. A MRI i had done of my head recently shows a finding consistent with having a stroke.That finding missing off the other MRI of my head.I have the film from the 1st MRI and I questioned whether the image is really my head.This is why I wanted another one.
I think you should have had another test done and if you are in a lot of pain then the normal results should be questionable.Then you go to a private place and do not tell them anything about what happened if the hospital did leaving something in you.
They protect each other and understanding that will help proceed with caution and make better decisions.
Best of luck.Also you may want to get CD copies of those past tests you had but do not tell them why.Then maybe get the CD and have it looked at to see if the finding was omitted.
Best of Luck

August 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm
(25) Cindy says:

Trisha, How amazing……what you do to help others. After reading about Melissa and then the responses, it just is wonderful that there is hope for her!

Melissa, I don’t have information to offer, but it seems you have received such great replies from others and I hope so much this leads you to a healthy and pain free solution!

August 11, 2011 at 2:45 am
(26) Dr Richard Willner says:

Well you turned down my offer of a surgeon and a gyn surgeon on your case. I spent time to arrange for this as well as for the Hospital.

I got no email or return call.

You obviously are not as serious as you let on.

You DONT need a lawyer now unless he can do surgery. You do file for malpractice and you will get a settlement.

I have made certain assumptions as the only “facts” that i have are in this article. And, I wonder if they are “facts’.

Dr Richard Willner

August 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm
(27) melissa seminra says:

Dr Wilmer

I did not turn down any help at all- i am in bedmostly at this point and have been on the computer very little.

i am sorry you felt it to doubt anything in this article but it is all true and i am in serious need- Lee Tilson had posted his info above for anyone to contact him because of my current health condition and I didnt want to lose out on any serious opportunity- i have electronic documents, and then physical medical records etc that can be sent to you- my first concern was surgery not legal I really need medical help. I dont know who you contacted but Trisha is unavailable right now she just wanted to get the story out as I need help- I put my email in the beginning of the week and then had a very rough week that is why I asked for help I am unable to do all the correspondence right now as my health continues to worsen- can you please send me the info?

August 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm
(28) melissa seminra says:

sorry I meant I did not get emails from you I was contacted by a few others i wanted to clarify that- so sorry

August 11, 2011 at 3:41 pm
(29) Lee Tilson says:

Has anyone else here had posts deleted?

I want Melissa to have all available options open. This is her choice, no one else’s.

I do not understand how anyone could make any serious arrangements for surgery without a. contacting the patient and b. obtaining some of her medical records. How can any arrangements be made without any relevant information and any patient contact.

Please share your information.

I applaud you and anyone else who wants to help. Standing ovation.

August 11, 2011 at 7:16 pm
(30) Melissa Seminara says:

Thank you so much for all your suggestions- I will try to contact the organizations/groups etc. If anyone has a surgeon they can suggest or a group that could recommend one I have packets of documentations/test results records that can be sent out for review and if they decide its something they will help with we can then copy the coordinating disks/CD’s for the tests as well for review- I have 2 copies of each currently but thats it. This has been extremely difficult to go through and I pray that I will get the surgery and be able to go on to help others- this is an extremely misunderstood situation- if your research it states the majority of US doctors are unfamiliar with it- even our radiological studies show contrast or theres something there but most are not confirmed until surgery- it wasnt until over 6 years later until my reports starting saying suspicious for foreign body or retained surgical material or linear structure of surgical material- there are new materials used and scanning devices created but they only work with the new sponges and are not mandatory to use so this does not help existing cases. Please help me get help and I will pay it forward that is my dream. I have a 7 year old daughter that I dream of being able to take a walk with or play with -nothing much else matters at this point- thank u for all the support I have received and I pray I get help through here.
Many blessings

August 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm
(31) Chris D'Elia says:

I am a friend of Melissa’s and I can tell you she is a wonderful young Mother she just needs to have her health back the situation has been so hard on her in every area of her life nothing would make her happier then to get her health back and do all the Mommy Daughter things that Mommies and daughters do she has been robbed of that for the most part do to this medical problem

as a Friend of her’s I thank you all for helping her God Bless you all

August 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm
(32) Heidi Stevenson says:

It’s good to see that Lee Tilson is involved. His sincerity and knowledge means that Melissa is in the best possible hands. If the situation can be resolved, he will likely be the person to manage it.

As the comments demonstrate, problems like this are endemic in the medical system now. How many Melissas are out there? We’ll likely never know. People in pain don’t generally have the strength to do more than survive. People with repeat infections eventually die.

Why this is happening at all? It simply shouldn’t. Clearly, there is something deeply wrong in a medical system that doesn’t automatically try to resolve errors made. In this case, we see a level of depravity even worse: the flat refusal to fix an admitted error that is destroying a woman’s life. Clearly, something is being valued over the patient.

Melissa’s life and quality of life mean less to these doctors than…what?

August 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm
(33) Deidre Lee says:

I am so sorry this has happened and not surprised at the treatment you have received from “healers” who took the Hippocratic Oath….my suggestion, write to The White House…you might get something going from them….or go to you local television stations and get this on the news. Good luck to you.

August 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm
(34) Trisha Torrey says:

Greetings to each of you,

Any many thanks for all your good ideas and support. Please see a follow up post to Melissa’s situation here.

A few things:

1. Apologies for not following up sooner. I have been on vacation (first time in 11 years – no phone or internet – yikes!)

2. No posts were deleted, no matter the comment made above. There were a handful of your comments that ended up in the spam folder and they have been retrieved.

3. Any personal email addresses or phone numbers have been removed from posts. I know you shared them with good intentions, but keeping them public only invites contact from people who may not have your best interests at heart.

Thanks to you all – I mean it – I am just overwhelmed at your generosity and passion. Read more about that here.


August 15, 2011 at 11:27 am
(35) Marietta Whittlesey says:

This is from a physician friend near Philadelphia.
Hi Marietta,

I’ll think about her problem . How old is she? I suppose if she were unable to have children after the surgical removal she could claim another lawsuit against the helping physician…that is a major worry . Hold harmless agreements don’t hold up especially in Philadelphia where it is a well known fact that juries never favor physicians. Does she have health insurance? I am wondering if she’s tried seeing doctors in, cities, states other than Phila and PA where the malpractice environment isn’t so scary for physicians…..

August 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm
(36) David Kulwicki says:

“They fear a lawsuit themselves if the removal itself becomes problematic.” This comment shows a fundamental misunderstanding of med mal claims. If there is an increased risk of an accepted complication due to a preexisting condition, then this excuses any injury. Further, if the subsequent surgeon performs the surgery within accepted standards, there is no claim. I know. I’m a med mal lawyer!

October 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm
(37) Rosemary says:

So, did Melissa get some help?

What is the latest?

The medmal atty’s post above is right on! Hope she gets the help she needs to survive.


March 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm
(38) Linda says:

I had a gossypiboma removed last year that had been there for 11 years. Should I be worried that the surgeon had no problem jumping in there and removing it? I live in Oklahoma.

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