YOKOTA AIR BASE, JAPAN (WTVO) — In 2013, a surgeon at the Yokota Air Base in Japan left a laparotomy towel inside Angie Perry’s abdomen during a C-section. Eight years later, the Air Force has offered her $50,000 to settle her medical malpractice claim.
Angie Perry, of Vancouver, Washington, a former Army spouse, discovered the towel in 2018, and is seeking $1 million in compensation.
“There is no doubt in my mind if that towel wasn’t found it would’ve killed me,” Perry told Stars and Stripes.
Perry isn’t interested in settling for the offer and wants the $1 million compensation she’s asking for or nothing at all.
Despite the incident, Perry had an otherwise successful birth and went home with a healthy newborn. It wasn’t until five years later that she began experiencing some chronic health problems with her bladder and digestive system that got so bad she was forced to wear a diaper.
A subsequent CT scan revealed the towel from five years earlier. Later in 2018, it was removed, along with a portion of Perry’s small intestine.
Perry described the 2013 procedure as chaotic. The surgeon who performed it was newly trained according to her resume and no longer works at the base.
The $50,000 settlement offer was made in a July letter sent to Perry from Yokota’s legal office.
“We do recognize that a laparotomy pad was discovered to have been retained in the abdomen, which may have caused some pain,” the letter states. “Although abdominal pain is a symptom of a retained laparotomy pad, pain is subjective and by Oct. 22, 2013, Ms. Perry had no abdominal pain.”
After hiring a medical malpractice attorney to pursue her claim in April 2019, Perry is now seeking new representation.
A Yokota Air Base and 374th medical group spokesperson declined to comment on Perry’s case citing both privacy concerns and concern over jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.
It was only recently that patients like Perry could sue the DOD for medical malpractice, after a provision in the 2020 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) struck down what had been a 70-year ban on such suits. In December 2019, then-President Trump also signed into law the Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act, which allowed for the filing of medical malpractice claims against the DOD from active-duty service members.
The law however, has a two-year statute of limitations and forbids suits from service members and their families against overseas medical bases, though does allow claims to be filed.
There have been a few dozen similar instances of objects left in patients at DOD hospitals, despite being on the decline since 2016.
Another patient had a similar experience as Perry with the exact same surgeon.
Lamia Lahlou, a former Arabic linguist for the Army also had a C-section from the doctor who performed Perry’s in September 2019, and like Perry began experiencing abdominal pain. Doctors told her it was a normal part of the recovery process.
“I was in so much pain that I thought maybe they put my organs in wrong,” said Lahlou.
Lahlou was referred to the mental health clinic after doctors told her her pain was psychological.
“I felt like I was being told I was crazy,” she said. “But I thought that maybe they were right. I believed that doctors knew better.”
Lahlou finally found out what was wrong while back in U.S. later that year when it was revealed during a CT scan that she had a mass of infection and cotton balls left in her abdomen from the C-section. A 21-cm abscess and other materials were also found.
Lahlou ended up having five surgeries and her bladder removed to resolve the issue but it led to her not going back to Japan with her husband and a subsequent divorce.
She began to file a claim in 2014 before ultimately dropping it due to being unable to find an attorney to take it on.
Lahlou implores others in her scenario to get to the bottom of what’s wrong and laments what might have happened had she not discovered the issue sooner.