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Lawyer Plans To Name Duke Health In Lawsuit Over Medical Mix-Up

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The lawyer for a patient treated at a Duke University Health System-affiliated hospital plans to add the health-care giant to a pending lawsuit connected to a medical mix-up involving nearly 4,000 patients.

Attorney Brent Adams, who represents Bennie Holland Jr., of Coats, N.C., told WRAL on Wednesday evening that his client is a very "sick" man as a result of being exposed to tainted surgical instruments. The medical tools were contaminated by used elevator hydraulic fluid that was mistakenly used in the cleaning process.

Lawsuits have already been filed against Automatic Elevator -- the Durham company accused of improperly disposing the used hydraulic fluid -- and Cardinal Health -- the supplier that redistributed the barrels of used fluid.

Adams, however, would not say why he planned to add Duke Health to the lawsuit, but that he did plan to do so on Thursday. It would be the first lawsuit in which Duke Health would be named.

A Duke Health spokesman declined to comment Wednesday evening because he said he had not seen the lawsuit.

For two months in late 2004, surgeons at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital and Durham Regional Hospital unknowingly used instruments that had been washed with hydraulic fluid instead of soap. The error happened after elevator workers with Automatic Elevator drained hydraulic fluid into empty soap containers without changing the labels.

According to a report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, one of the hospitals ordered the containers removed after they were left in a parking lot in September 2004. Employees called the company on the container labels, Cardinal Health, which then redistributed them even though they were not properly sealed.

In January 2005, Duke Health sent letters to approximately 3,800 patients informing them about the medical mix-up. Since then, the health-care system has started tracking patients' health concerns, set up an information line and developed a Web site to provide information on the case.

Many patients have already filed or joined lawsuits and have complained of mysterious health problems that they believe are connected to the medical mix-up.

Duke Health has said that the residual amount of hydraulic fluid left on the tools was less than a fraction of a drop; that the risk of infection was low and the tools were still sterile. Officials have admitted in the past, however, that long-term effects of exposure are unknown.

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