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Duke Hospital Officials Investigate Incident That Injured Newborn

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DURHAM, N.C. — An ailing newborn suffered first-, second-and third-degree burns on 5 percent of its body when a fire eruptedduring a medical procedure at Duke Hospital's Pediatric IntensiveCare Unit.

The injuries were not life-threatening, hospital officials said.The baby had been suffering from an upper-respiratory illness,hospital spokesman Richard Puff said.

Hospital officials would not identify the baby or disclose itscondition at the request of the family.

The fire started at 1 p.m. Monday as a five-person medical teambegan performing a procedure called extracorporal membraneoxygenation treatment, or ECMO. The team was supposed to attach aseries of tubes to the baby that would feed into a machine designedto breathe for it and pump its blood.

Oxygen surrounds babies throughout theprocedure while doctors use a heated cauterizing tool to stanchbleeding.

A hospital spokesman said paper draped over the baby, thenfabric bedding and a blanket ignited shortly after the procedurebegan Monday. The fire was extinguished with sterile water withinseconds, the spokesman said.

The hospital's initial investigation has not shown what causedthe fire, said Dr. William Fulkerson, chief executive officer atDuke Hospital. Hospital investigators are still testing patientmonitors, and the cauterizing tool had not malfunctioned before, hesaid.

Dr. John Faulkner said the operating team at Duke somehow failed to recognize the potential danger.

"These are tragedies, preventable tragedies," he said.

Faulkner's wife, Joan, was almost killed when her outpatient surgery caught fire, severely burning her upper body.

"I was burned on my ears, my face, my neck and my chest," she said.

Faulkner said information from his wife's accident still has not been released by her hospital. He claims if it had been made public right way, it may have helped prevent the fire at Duke.

Duke doctors have performed the procedure hundreds of timessince 1990, Fulkerson said. ECMO can last for days to weeks.

Hospital staff immediately notified the baby's family after thefire, officials said. On Wednesday, the hospital notified state andfederal regulators about the incident.

Duke Hospital has been under added scrutiny since the Feb. 22death of 17-year-old Jesica Santillan, who received a heart-lungtransplant with organs that did not match her blood type. Stateinspectors, acting on behalf of federal Medicaid and Medicareprograms, initiated an inquiry into the hospital's transplantprograms.

"We take care of the sickest people here," Fulkerson saidWednesday. "We do the most complex procedures. We have the mostdedicated staff. If there's something to learn from this, we'lllearn it, and we'll teach everybody else, too."


John Bachman, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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