Man's Chest Catches Fire During Open Heart Surgery

The man's chest caught fire during emergency heart surgery.

A new report from Melbourne's Austin Health Centre describes a fire that sparked up on a man's chest while he was undergoing an emergency surgery for an aortic dissection (tear in the aorta).

Upon opening the 60-year-old man's chest cavity, the surgeons noticed that there was a large bullae (air pocket cyst) on his lung.

The bullae was punctured accidentally when the surgeons made the opening incision and started leaking air.

Photo: Getty

In order to ensure that the patient was receiving enough air to keep breathing, the anaesthetist cranked up the oxygen up to 100 percent.

There was so much gas leaking out of the man's lungs, the surgical team commented they could smell the anaesthetic in the air.

This is where the problem started.

The combination of oxygen and general anaesthesia pouring over an electrocautery device (a heated electrode used to stop bleeding) caused a spark that ignited a nearby dry surgical pack.

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Fortunately for the man -- and his doctors -- the flame was immediately extinguished with no harm caused to his body, and the rest of the operation went successfully.

Fires sparked during operations are rare but not unheard of, with an estimated 550 to 650 surgical fires every year in the U.S., according to the Emergency Care Research Institute.

These burns can occasionally prove devastating to the patient, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have published a set of guidelines to reduce the risk of fire in operating rooms.

Image: Pixabay

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

All of the previous cases involved a dry surgical pack being ignited in much the same manner as happen in the case of this operation, with lung disease lesions causing oxygen to flow amply over an electrode.

The Austin Health researchers said the possibility of these fires mean that anaesthetic teams should take care to use minimum oxygen concentration in surgeries with an airway leak.

The surgeons also suggested that avoiding dry surgical packs is probably a good way of mitigating this risk.