Face Burned During Onslow Memorial Surgery

Woman Taken to UNC Chapel Hill Burn Center

JACKSONVILLE - A fire burned a woman's face during a procedure at Onslow Memorial Hospital Thursday, when flames spread from a surgical device to the patient's skin.

According to Onslow Memorial Hospital spokesperson Amy Sousa, an instrument known as a "Bovie knife" created a spark at the Hospital's SurgiCare center. A high-oxygen environment fueled the fire, as the flame followed the path of a breathing tube to the woman's face.

"The surgeon extinguished the flame with his hand while a nurse doused the flames with saline solution and water," Sousa wrote in an email statement Tuesday. "The staff immediately called the hospital switchboard to initiate fire response and also 911 to initiate EMS."

Hospital officials could not disclose the medical procedure because of patient privacy laws. The fire was the first such incident for Onslow Memorial's SurgiCare center, an ambulatory surgery facility located across the street from the main hospital.

"This was an extremely rare occurrence," Sousa said in a phone interview late Tuesday. "All of us are humbled by this accident and our heartfelt thoughts are with the patient and her family."

The Bovie knife implemented in the surgery uses high heat to seal wounds or cut tissue. The device's electrical current creates a small flame at the tip of the knife, reaching temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bovie instruction guides advise extreme caution while using the knife in oxygen rich environments.

"As firefighters and EMS arrived, the patient was assessed by an ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist and a plastic surgeon," Sousa wrote. "The patient suffered facial burns, and was taken to the Emergency Department. Per the county's EMS protocol the patient was then transported to the UNC Burn Center for further evaluation and treatment."

According to hospital officials, patients are taken to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill if burn injures occur during an operation. Sousa confirmed the woman in Thursday's incident was airlifted for the 150-mile journey.

As of Tuesday night, the patient was in fair condition at Chapel Hill. Onslow Memorial Hospital said staff will conduct a thorough investigation to review the accident.

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