Woman awarded more than $10M after surgical sponge left inside her for 6 years

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A Kentucky jury awarded nearly $10.5 million to a woman whose leg was amputated after a surgical sponge was left inside her body for six years.

According to The Courier Journal, Carolyn Boerste underwent bypass heart surgery at University of Louisville Hospital in March 2011. While operating, vascular surgeon Dr. Marvin Morris said he accidentally cut a vein. He said he used an 18-inch square surgical sponge to soak up the blood.

"It took a lot longer for the surgery than they had thought," Boerste said.

Boerste's attorney James Bolus said, nurses were supposed to count the sponges just before lunch but failed to do so.

"Nurses failed to do a count thereafter and a sponge remained for 6 years inside this woman's abdomen and eroding into her intestine," Bolus said.

Boerste's attorneys said that in 2015, Boerste suffered multiple gastrointestinal complications. Bolus said Dr. Mark Nunley ordered a CT scan for Boerste to diagnose her issues.

According to Bolus' summary, a radiologist told Nunley they saw a marker for the sponge, but Nunley didn't tell Boerste, instead saying she had a urinary tract infection. Nunley later testified he had no memory of the radiologist's call. Boerste's family doctor also got a copy of the scan 19 days later but didn't tell Boerste either.

"It's just aggravating and very frustrating," Boerste said.

In 2016, 20 months later, another CT scan showed the sponge, and the doctor told her. However, while she was recovering at Franciscan Health Center, Boerste, who is diabetic, got a blister on her heel. Her leg was eventually amputated below the knee in 2017.

The jury found that Franciscan Health Center did not properly care for Boerste, which led to the amputation.

Boerste said her mother now takes care of her.

"Everything's changed. I used to take care of my grandkids, I used to be at home, I used to take my son back and forth to work," Boerste said. "Now, I'm not allowed to drive. I'm not -- you know, I can't do anything."

The Courier Journal said the jury awarded Boerste, now 62 years old, $1 million in punitive damages, $1.4 million in medical expenses and roughly $8 million for pain and suffering.

University of Louisville Hospital said it planned to appeal the court's decision, testifying in court that Boerste was doomed to lose her leg because of her worsening diabetes, obesity, smoking history and poor lifestyle choices. Bolus said an appeal could delay her payout by two to five years.

"It's truly unbelievable," Bolus said. "This is a sweet woman who would not hurt a fly and for them to leave a sponge in her and not tell her and not tell her about it and her end up getting her leg cut off and then not owning responsibility for that, it was just unbelievable."

Boerste said she planned to use the money to pay off her medical bills and her home.
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