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Cancer Patient Dies After Being Set On Fire During Surgery


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockDec 31 2019, 15:53 UTC

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - August 13, 2018: An ambulance at Floreasca Emergency Hospital. Mircea Moira/Shutterstock

A woman has died after being accidentally set on fire “like a torch” on an operating table in Romania.

The 66-year-old patient with pancreatic cancer was fatally injured during surgery at Floreasca Hospital in the capital Bucharest on Sunday, December 22, Romanian news agency MEDIAFAX reports. Staff at the hospital used an alcohol-based disinfectant despite the operation involving an electric scalpel. Somehow, the electrical equipment malfunctioned and combusted the flammable disinfectant covering the patient’s body. 


As a result of the accident, the woman suffered burns on 40 percent of her body and died in the days following.

“The patient burned like a torch for a few seconds until a nurse threw a bowl of water over the operating table,” according to a Facebook post by Emanuel Ungureanu, a Romanian politician. 

As per Ungureanu’s post, one of the hospital's porters described the incident as follows: “When I was returning to that operator block, I felt a strong smell of smoke and checked where it came from, noting that the fire came from Room 1. Entering Room 1, I saw a lot of water on the floor and everyone was scared."

Now, authorities and the hospital are pointing fingers at each other with numerous conflicting accounts of how the tragic mishap occurred. Some of the doctors involved in the surgery claim the woman was allergic to iodine disinfectant, meaning they had to use alcohol-based disinfectant as an alternative. However, Ungureanu told MEDIAFAX that there are doubts about this explanation as the doctors did not carry out any tests on the woman’s allergies. 


"The problem is that the use of this electro-scalpel is prohibited in combination with this disinfectant," explained Romania’s Ministry of Health.

There are also numerous accounts of who was in the room at the time of the incident. One of the hospital’s chief doctors claimed he can prove he was not in the hospital when the incident occurred, although Ungureanu claims he has evidence to show the contrary and is filing a criminal complaint against the surgeon in question. The country's ministry of health has launched an inquiry in the hopes of resolving these outstanding questions.

Regardless of who is to blame, the incident highlights Romania’s crumbling healthcare system that’s wracked with underfunding, staff shortages, and corruption. Romanian healthcare is ranked the worst in Europe and has been rocked by a number of health scandals in recent years. For example, following Romania’s Colectiv nightclub fire in 2015, dozens of casualties died in hospital, many as a result of infections contracted there.

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