Family Brings Lawsuit after Mother is Set on Fire During Surgery

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The family of Selah Schulze has filed suit in Grayson County, Texas, alleging Ms. Schulze sustained injuries when she was caught on fire during a routine operation. Defendants include Texoma Medical Center, surgeon Dr. Robert Wilcott, and anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Villareal. Kay L. Van Wey of Van Wey Law, PLLC, is representing the family of Ms. Schulze.

Kay L. Van Wey

Kay L. Van Wey

As patients, we are at the mercy of health care providers and are relying on them to do their job, which includes not making careless, mindless mistakes.

The family of Selah Schulze filed suit in Grayson County, Texas, last Friday against Texoma Medical Center, surgeon Dr. Robert Wilcott, and anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Villareal, among other defendants, for negligence and gross negligence relating to injuries Ms. Schulze sustained when she was caught on fire during a routine operation. The lawsuit is referenced under Cause NO# CV-11-0956 and will be heard by the Honorable Judge James P. Fallon of the 15th District Court of Texas.

The family is represented by Dallas attorney Kay L. Van Wey of Van Wey Law, PLLC. Ms. Van Wey is a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Lawyer with over 25 years of experience handling personal injury cases. She is an ardent supporter of patients’ rights, has been named a Texas Super Lawyer nine times, and has attained life membership in the Million Dollar and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum based on past results obtained for clients.*

This lawsuit is the second surgical fire lawsuit Ms. Van Wey has prosecuted. The first lawsuit involved a young boy who was caught on fire during a routine tonsillectomy. That case was resolved, but the details are subject to a confidential settlement agreement. Ms. Van Wey has recently written a book entitled “Fire in the Operating Room—A Preventable Tragedy,” which is available as a free download. A copy of the book may be obtained by going to http://bit.ly/fire-in-the-operating-room.

According to the petition, Ms. Schulze arrived at Texoma Medical Center on June 8, 2009, to have a pacemaker implanted. Her family says she was looking forward to getting the pacemaker so she could resume her active life and enjoy time with her family and friends.

But the lawsuit claims that shortly after the surgery began, something went terribly wrong. The routine operation devolved into a horrific surgical fire that burned Ms. Schulze’s scalp, face, neck, chest, and right breast. The operating room staff was able to extinguish the fire, but it was too late.

Ms. Schulze never received the pacemaker implant that day. As the petition states, she was instead transferred over 70 miles away to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where she was listed as being in critical condition. Several surgeries were later required to deal with the scar tissue formations from the burns. The dense fibrotic, damaged scar tissue had to be grafted with skin from a donor site, Ms. Schulze’s hip, which was also scarred following the surgeries.

After undergoing several plastic surgeries to repair the burned skin on her face, the petition states that Ms. Schulze had to endure another operation in which doctors again attempted to implant a pacemaker. She survived the second operation, but her life was never the same after the fire.

Surgical fires can be easily prevented by ensuring that three conditions do not come together: a heat or ignition source, a fuel source, and an oxidizer. The lawsuit claims that unfortunately for Ms. Schulze, all three conditions did come together because of the negligence of the surgical team. The petition alleges that Dr. Wilcott failed to ensure that he had adequate control of the cauterizer he was using, which was the ignition source for the fire. The petition also alleges that Dr. Villareal, the anesthesiologist for Ms. Schulze’s operation, failed to check oxygen level concentrations in the room and failed to minimize the amount of oxygen delivered to Ms. Schulze. Further, the petition alleges that the nurses failed to ensure that the area to be operated on was dried of any excess skin prep cleanser.

The petition states that each member of the surgical team present in the operating room should have known his or her role and should have been actively communicating with other members of the surgical team to ensure a fire did not start.

Accordingly, the lawsuit alleges that each member of the surgical team had a standard of care to uphold, but each member breached that standard. Dr. Wilcott should have used the lowest setting possible on the electrosurgical unit and should have communicated with both the nurses and the anesthesiologist to ensure that potential fuel sources and oxidizers were cleared. Dr. Villareal should have monitored the oxygen concentration going to the patient and should have discontinued the use of supplemental oxygen before Dr. Wilcott initiated the procedure. Finally, the nurses should have allowed the flammable skin prep agent to dry before Ms. Schulze was draped.

“As patients, we are at the mercy of health care providers and are relying on them to do their job, which includes not making careless, mindless mistakes,” says Ms. Van Wey. She adds that “Preventable medical errors are unacceptable. Preventable means that providers should be taking the proper precautions to ensure that these errors do not occur. That a patient such as Ms. Schulze would be subjected to a medical mistake that was completely preventable is tragic and senseless.”

The children of Ms. Schulze seek recovery for the scarring, the conscious physical pain and suffering, and the mental anguish Ms. Schulze suffered prior to her death. They are also seeking exemplary damages for what the petition describes as the outrageous, extreme, malicious, and grossly negligent conduct of the defendants, and damages for pecuniary loss related to medical and funeral expenses. While they know that no amount of money will bring their mother back or replace the joy that she brought to their lives, they want to make sure that this does not happen to someone else’s loved one.

*Past results do not guarantee the same results for other clients in different matters, or in the same or similar matters. The results of each client’s case depend on the specific factual and legal circumstances of the case.

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Kay Van Wey
Van Wey Law, PLLC
(214) 329-1350
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