Woman finds 2-inch needle in spine more than a decade after medical error

TORONTO (CBC News) - After a Canadian woman sought medical attention for shoulder pain, she discovered she had a nearly 2-inch needle lodged in her spine. But there is nothing she can do about the needle or about getting answers from the healthcare community.

When the pain started in 46-year-old Giovanna Ippolito’s shoulder and right leg two years ago, she chalked it up to getting older until an X-ray showed a 2-inch broken needle embedded in her spine. It was a medical error that took more than a decade to discover.

“I can’t even describe how I feel,” Ippolito said. “I don’t know what damage this could be causing me, either today or for the long haul. So, it’s a feeling of fear, a feeling of the unknown.”

Ippolito believes the needle broke off either during the birth of her son in 2002 or her daughter in 2004 when a spinal block and epidurals were done.

Doctors say the needle is too dangerous to remove, due to its location and the scar tissue that’s grown around it.

Ippolito is now locked in a battle with the hospital for answers and accountability.

Hospital officials gave her more than 170 pages of her patient records, telling her there was no record of the needle breaking, so there’s nothing they could or would do. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario can’t launch an official investigation because it’s unclear which doctor is responsible.

Ippolito is one of more than 130,000 Canadian citizens hurt by the medical system every year, but experts say malpractice cases are nearly impossible to win in the country.

What’s needed, advocates say, is a no-fault compensation system, like they have in New Zealand and France. In those countries, patients are compensated quickly and fairly without having to go to court.

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