Woman, 78, dies after surgical robot ‘burnt a hole in her intestine and caused a fatal leak’

A surgical robot error led to a horrific death in 2022.

death surgerical robot health
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death surgerical robot health

No one gets particularly excited about surgery but, for the most part, modern medicine means that the majority of operations go well. However, mistakes obviously happen, and that’s unfortunately the case in the following story. Sandra Sultzer underwent surgery for colon cancer in September 2021 at Baptist Health Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida.

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However, in February 2022, Sandra died. Her husband Harvey has launched a lawsuit against Intuitive Surgical, the company that created the machine used in his wife’s surgery. Here’s the tragic tale of what went wrong.

Sandra’s surgery

When operating on Sandra, doctors used a ‘da Vinci robot’, a medical device that is both multi-armed and remote-controlled. The surgeon puts their fingers through small loops set into a console and uses this to control the machine. The lawsuit explained:

These instruments consist of forceps, scissors, scalpels and other surgical tools. Some of these instruments use electrical energy to cut and cauterize living body tissue.

That’s what happened during Sandra’s surgery, but her husband alleges that there was a fault. Harvey claims that an electricity leak occurred when the robotic arms were cutting through Sandra’s tissue, causing the machine to burn her internal organs without the doctors noticing.

A repeated mistake

This is not the first instance of a robot 'accidentally' killing a human, but the fact that it was supposed to help with Sandra's health makes the situation all the more tragic. Harvey’s lawsuit states that the manufacturer knew that the insulation on these machines was ‘insufficient to reliably prevent electricity from leaking into the body and causing internal burns to patients’. In Sandra’s case, Harvey alleges the rubber sleeves designed to stop the electricity from escaping to parts of the body had cracks in them.

The machine reportedly damaged Sandra’s small intestine, ‘causing a perforation which required subsequent medical intervention and caused permanent physical and emotional injuries, and ultimately her death’. The lawsuit continued:

Had ISI safely designed its product so that stray electrical energy would not burn the insides of patients without the knowledge or control of the operating surgeons, the small intestine injury to Mrs. Sultzer would not have happened, and she would not have died.

This da Vinci robot has reportedly been used in over 12 million treatments with success, according to Intuitive Surgical. Yet, over 20,000 cases of accidents related to this machine have been registered with the FDA. Most resulted in injury, but 274 cases were fatal. It's true that medical practices are never 100% - you even have to be careful with prescription meds, as this sister's devastating tale shows.

Intuitive Surgical told NBC in 2018:

Our training, systems and technologies reflect, and are informed by, our commitment to patient safety, so we offer a comprehensive, intensive training program on our technology that depends on the surgeon's capabilities — and we also strongly recommend they continue training throughout their careers.

However, the company added:

As with any medical device manufacturer, we are only permitted to train on our technology — we cannot, by law, train on clinical practice or the clinical application of our technology.

The complaint has even gone so far as to claim that Intuitive Surgical has been intimidating hospitals into using the robot.

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Sources used:

People: 'Unreasonably Dangerous' Surgical Robot Fatally Burned Cancer Patient, Lawsuit Alleges

The Sun: OP HORROR Woman, 78, dies after surgical robot ‘burnt a hole in her intestine and caused a fatal leak’

This woman died for 40 minutes, doctors were shocked by what they saw in her body This woman died for 40 minutes, doctors were shocked by what they saw in her body