An Illinois mother made a terrible discovery years after she had surgery.
In 2007, Michelle Eberwein had back surgery.
"They told me it would be a rough first year but then I should be fine," Eberwein told WLS-TV.
Soon she began experiencing a mysterious pain on her left side.
"I kept going to the ER doing CT scans and they are like, 'oh, kidney stones. Oh, there's nothing there. Oh, you have IBS. Oh, it's ... we just don't know," Eberwein recalls.
Eberwein says she would constantly visit the ER in the hopes of a proper diagnosis, but that year after year they would let her down. Until, that is, in 2015 when an emergency room doctor discovered the cause of her pain.
"He goes, 'well, there's something in there,'" Eberwein told WLS-TV. "I said, 'what do you mean something?' He goes, 'a surgical tool.'"
The object left in Eberwein's side during her surgery in 2007 has been described as possible retained swabs. The swabs had been sitting near a major artery in Eberwein's abdomen for nine years.
To make matters more frustrating for Eberwein, doctors allegedly knew that something was inside of her that shouldn't have been. In radiology, they term it an "irregular high density material."
Eberwein has no idea why she wasn't told of the foreign object when it was first discovered. "No one ever told me and I just don't understand why," she said.
Medical errors are so common they are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, The Washington Post reports.
According to the Association for American Justice, 440,000 people die each year because of preventable medical errors, which is equivalent to almost the entire population of Atlanta, Georgia, dying every year due to medical error. The association reports that 1 in 3 patients will suffer a medical error, and that such errors cost the U.S. tens of billions of dollars annually.
Despite these statistics, many states still underreport their instances of medical error. In Illinois, for example, where Eberwein's medical error was made, a legislative budget impasse has prevented the state from paying a vendor that would create the electronic reporting system to file such errors, WLS-TV reports.
This helps explain why Eberwein was never notified of the foreign object in her body. Such a notification is usually delivered via a "care team," but such teams cannot properly transmit the information because of the bureaucratic red tape.
And it only gets worse for Eberwein, as she appears to be out of luck for legal recourse, since her case goes beyond the statute of limitations for reporting medical malpractice in the state.
"In Illinois, doctors and hospitals lobbied for a deadline, a drop-dead deadline after which they cannot be sued, even if their patients never are aware, never become aware of the injury until after that," said medical malpractice attorney Bill Cirignani. "It doesn't matter that people saw it and didn't tell her, doesn't matter that she had pain and asked about it and no one uncovered it. After four years, she is out."
Eberwein said the object buried deep in her abdomen is now covered with scar tissue and needs to be removed, but the surgery could be risky and expensive.
"I am angry, so angry that I can't hold the surgeon accountable for what happened. I just ... I feel very wronged," she said.