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August 26, 2011

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Patient dies as doctors flee fire

Surgeons had to abandon a patient in a Shanghai hospital when thick black smoke engulfed the operating room.

The 48-year-old man, who died before doctors could get back into the room, was undergoing surgery to amputate his right leg on Wednesday night when fire broke out in an empty room next door.

The patient, surnamed Zhu, had been knocked down by a truck and was sent to the No. 3 People's Hospital affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine for emergency treatment at around 6:30pm.

Doctors started operating at 8pm and he was the only patient having surgery in the 10-room unit at the time.

He was under general anesthetic and the final stage of the operation was under way when fire broke out at about 10pm.

When doctors noticed smoke they sent a nurse to see what was happening and raise the alarm while the five other medical staffers continued to work on the patient, trying to close his open wound.

The nurse managed to put out the fire, in a container of ozone used for disinfection, but thick black smoke quickly engulfed the room and left the medical team gasping for breath. The two surgeons were the last to leave, crawling on the floor to find enough air to breathe. The patient was on a respiratory machine and they reckoned he could be left for some 30 minutes in safety, the hospital said.

The fire had caused a power failure and the emergency supply had kicked in.

"Though the operating rooms were equipped with an emergency power supply, the smoke was too thick for anyone to see anything," said Fang Yong, the hospital's president, said yesterday.

"Doctors couldn't simply pull Zhu out of the room because he was connected to a respiration machine and other equipment. He would have died if he'd been removed from the respiration machine.

"It was also risky for him to leave the room with such an open wound."

Doctors attempted to move him out of the room but the braking system of the surgery bed broke down during the power failure and the bed wheels were stuck, the hospital said.

The surgeons didn't know how to move the bed as the nurses usually did that job, the hospital said.

When it was decided to leave Zhu where he was it was in the belief he would be safe for up to 30 minutes, Fang said.

Patients in wards on the same floor were evacuated after firefighters arrived. Firefighters who entered the operating room found that Zhu had stopped breathing. The hospital said Zhu's doctors had tried to enter the room to help, but were held back.

"We will take all the responsibility for Zhu's death, because we didn't save his life though our staff had tried their best," Fang said.

Hospital officials said the hospital had plans of action in the event of a fire and had carried out a drill just days before.

But they said the plans might not have envisaged such an extreme situation as the one that resulted in Zhu's death.

Patients on the same floor said they were unaware of the incident until they heard the fire engines arriving and the shouting of medical staff.

A patient's relative, however, said he had seen smoke and raised the alarm.

All patients needing surgery have been transferred to other hospitals.

The six members of the medical team have been suspended while police carry out their investigation, said Fang.


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