Sponge left in woman’s body leads to medical malpractice suit

Lawsuit involving Dayton woman who died in 2010 reaches trial

Eugenia A. Snowden died 15 months after a surgical team led by a Wright State Physicians doctor left a sponge inside her abdomen, leading to medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit that reached trial on Monday.

The 2010 lawsuit brought by Snowden’s husband began with opening statements in front of an 8-person jury and one alternate seated by Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Frances McGee. The trial is expected to last all week.

Dennis K. Snowden alleges that after a 17-hour surgery in late February 2009 at Miami Valley Hospital, the medical team left a laparotomy sponge in his wife’s body and that led to complications and ultimately to death. The original lawsuit filing named several defendants including Dr. Akpofure “Peter” Ekeh, Wright State Physicians, numerous scrub technicians, nurses and other medical personnel.

Court documents show Wright State Physicians Inc. admits a sponge remained in Snowden’s body for about seven months — including two failed attempts to remove it — but deny that the sponge’s presence caused Snowden’s further medical problems and death.

Snowden’s attorney, Gary Leppla, gave the jury a timeline of the numerous medical procedures and issues of Eugenia Snowden, who died May 7, 2010 at 58 years of age.

Leppla said the evidence will show that the Feb. 26-27, 2009 surgery took so long that there was some personnel shift changes. Informed by medical team members that the sponge count was off, Ekeh ordered an X-ray.

Leppla said Ekeh took out one sponge, was told by the medical team that the sponge count was correct and completed the surgery.

But Leppla said Ekeh didn’t look at the X-ray, which showed another sponge in the upper-left quadrant of the abdomen.

The jury saw a radiology report — completed just after the long surgery — that said there were “two ribbon-like high density structures” that were consistent with sponges.

Leppla said Ekeh didn’t look at the X-ray until five or six weeks later when he sees the sponge and makes note of it. Ekeh tried twice but failed to remove the sponge, including one surgery that injured Snowden’s spleen.

Since Ekeh said he wanted a “new set of eyes” to look at the case, Snowden was referred to the Cleveland Clinic, which noted a “foreign object” as one of Snowden’s problems. Leppla said an expert witness will testify that Snowden never really got better because of complications due to the presence of the sponge. A Cleveland Clinic surgeon finally removed the sponge Oct. 1, 2009 during a 9-hour surgery.

“The bottom line is it’s time to take responsibility,” Leppla said.

After Leppla finished his statement, Wright State Physicians attorney Frederick Sewards told jurors, “Now you’re going to hear the rest of the story.”

Sewards said Ekeh was told the sponge count was off by one and that when Ekeh found one, Ekeh didn’t look at the X-ray he ordered.

“It is not an excuse, it is a reason it got left behind,” Sewards told the jury. “It is a deviation from standard care.”

Sewards said the sponge being left behind was a mistake by the medical team. But Sewards said evidence will show Snowden’s complicated intestinal history explains her demise apart from the surgery involving the sponge.

“The evidence does not support everything bad that’s happened,” Sewards said. “And it certainly didn’t cause her death.”

About the Author