Personal Stories

Dennis Rockenbach’s Personal Story

Jessica Williams’ Personal Story

David Hlebasko’s Personal Story

Rita Talbert’s Personal Story

Cathy Reuter’s Personal Story (Founder of SurgicalFire.Org)

I offer this website as a resource for others and to help create awareness of surgical fires.  While many people have never heard of a surgical fire inside a patient, it happens more frequently than you might think.  Exact statistics are hard to uncover due to under-reporting and efforts to cover up surgical fires for fear of malpractice suits.  

I was compelled to work toward awareness after my mother was critically burned during surgery because a topical solution was not allowed enough time to dry before the doctor used an electro-surgical cauterizing tool.  A fire ignited and my mother received extremely serious burns to her chest, throat, face, and ear, among other areas.

As you’ll read below, my mother was the victim of a surgical fire–the complications and medical errors from which took her life.  Following my personal experiences with my mother, I am committed to creating awareness for medical safety and the prevention of errors.

Cathy Reuter

Below is an outline of the events of my mother’s experience with the medical system.  I was my mother’s primary support system throughout this time.

In December of 2002 my mother was burned in a surgical fire and sustained second and third degree burns to her face and upper airway.

Subsequently, she contracted multiple infections such as MRSA, VRE, and C-Diff.  Treatment of the burns contributed to kidney failure, resulting in dialysis three times a week.

Long- term ventilation was required because my mother was sedated (7 weeks) for the pain.

In February of 2003, my mother was transferred to a facility that had an ACPRU (Acute Pulmonary Rehab Unit ), where she received wonderful care.  There were medical mistakes made here as well, but the doctor immediately apologized and efforts were made to correct them.

In May of 2004, my mother was transferred to Western Maryland Hospital Center, a chronic illness hospital, where she sustained a broken arm.  Shortly after her arm was broken she was transferred to another hospital where she remained because the chronic illness hospital refused her re-admission.

On Dec. 17, 2004 my mother died at a Maryland hospital.  The hospital lead me to believe that she died of natural causes, which was not true.  In actuality, my mother was taken off the unit for dialysis and, upon returning, her nurse failed to re-connect her to the wall oxygen.  The oxygen tank ran out and she died connected to an empty oxygen tank with no call light to get help.

What happened to my mother was horribly painful and sad.  Before she died, my mother asked me to make sure something like this never happens to another human being.  That is why I am working to create awareness of surgical fires and advocating for transparency in medical errors.