Woman dies after getting formaldehyde instead of saline in hospital

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The fatal mistake was fully preventable and should have never happened.

Ekaterina Fedyaeva was a young woman with dreams about becoming a mother. That’s why she wanted to surgically remove her ovarian cysts so that she could fall pregnant easier. But, instead of her dreams coming true, the 28-year-old died due to a series of (preventable) fatal medical errors.

Fatal Medical Errors Killed A Young Woman And Her Hopes

Ekaterina had ovarian cysts. This is a mild and common condition involving fluid-filled sacs in one or both ovaries. The cysts themselves aren’t life threatening, nor do they cause further complications. Sometimes, they vanish without treatment.  

However, for women looking to optimise all possible chances of falling pregnant without resorting to fertility treatment, removing ovarian cysts can help. 

Ektarina had booked a laparoscopic procedure on the 15th of March 2018 at the Central Clinical Medical and Sanitary Unit in Ulyanovsk, Russia. The operation — which is a common one — was conducted without a problem. 

However, after the operation, a nurse had carelessly given her liquid containing formalin instead of the usual saline solution for her IV drip. This proved to be a fatal mistake.

 

woman dies of formalin intext 1 Woman dies after getting formaldehyde instead of saline in hospital

Ekaterina’s IV drip had been filled with formaldehyde instead of a the usual solution. | Image Source: Shutterstock

Formalin Is Used To Preserve Bodies…

Formalin is comprised of formaldehyde, a clear liquid. It’s commonly used in preserving the dead. 

Nikolas P. Lemos is the chairman of the toxicology section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, explains that formaldehyde has many forms. When exposed to room temperature, it’s a gas, but it becomes formalin when dissolved in water. Lemos emphasises that Formaldehyde is “a potentially very toxic substance.”
 
It’s very unusual for formalin to end up in an IV bag. Normally, it is kept in an Operating Theatre for several reasons, including to control surgical bleeding and destroy tumour cells.
 
In Ektarina’s case, the formalin started to damage her body almost instantly. She became feverish and experienced excruciating abdominal pains. 
 
The medical professionals who treated her identified the mistake. They attempted to cleanse out her abdominal cavity to rescue her from becoming mummified while she was breathing.
 
One time when Ektarina awoke, she said weakly, “I’m dying,” to her mum, who thought it was just an expression of speech due to regular post-operative pain.
 
Valentina Fedyaeva, her mother-in-law said, “The docs spent a long time talking and were arguing among themselves. Nobody wanted to take her on.”

Treatment after treatment, but to no avail

Ektarina fell into a coma. Despite her being transferred to a hospital with better facilities, eventually, her organs stopped functioning properly. Doctors hooked her up to machines so that she could continue living. 
 
But it was too late. After three weeks of living a nightmare, the young woman sadly passed away.
 
Our condolences go to the Fedyaeva family. We hope that they are able to gain as much support as they can in going through these tough times.

The effects of formalin in the body

woman dies of formalin intext 2 Woman dies after getting formaldehyde instead of saline in hospital

One instant symptom of swallowing formaldehyde is serious abdominal pain. | Image Source: Shutterstock

According to Lemos, who is also a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, previous incidents involving formaldehyde have happened before. The outcome can be fatal, and death comes before “very severe corrosive damage to the stomach and the small intestine, followed by collapse of the circulatory system and kidney damage”, says Lemos.

Other experts agree. Dr. Christopher Hoyte is a toxicologist at the University of Colorado Hospital’s emergency department. According to him, formaldehyde entering the body can cause red blood cells to burst, a condition known as acidosis.

Death is almost always “fully predictable” as formalin would “disrupt the function of nearly every living organ” according to  Dr. Lewis Nelson, the chairman of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. 

Still, previous cases have shown that people can survive from accidentally swallowing formaldehyde. More often than not this because of the low dose of formalin and treatment provided. However, as cases don’t often occur, doctors haven’t exactly pinpointed how much, or what concentration of formalin is actually deadly.

This unfortunate incident is also an eye opener about the real risks of medical mistakes.

Previously, we brought you the story of a woman who was injected with hand cleanser after her C-section, leaving her paralyzed. There are many other stories of medical mishaps, reminding us that medical professionals too, are human, and make mistakes like everyone else. 

Is there a way of minimizing or preventing such errors from a patient’s point-of-view? Probably not. But you can still be informed about all risks involved in any medical procedure. You also have the right to ask questions to clear any doubts you might have. 

At the same time, let’s be thankful to the many amazing medical professionals around the world who perform miracles on a daily basis. 

References:

CNN, LiveScience

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