Tony Clarke suffered from a chronic inflammatory skin disease, hidradenitis suppurativa. In September 2020, Tony underwent surgery to remove infected tissue on one side of his body.
When he entered the operating theatre, Tony’s surgical team first covered part of his body with an alcohol-based solution, to keep the area clean. Then, when the operation began, the surgeons began cutting off the infected tissue using a diathermy pen, a device that targets electrically-induced heat to stop wounds from bleeding. However, shortly into the surgery, disaster struck: heat from the surgical pen had ignited the alcohol on Tony’s body.
“But because alcohol burns so hot, no fire was seen,” says Tony, recalling an explanation he later received from the hospital.
“The surgeons were concentrating on the right side of my body. The left side was left burning for about 20 minutes.”
For the next four months, Tony travelled back to the hospital every three days, to get his injuries checked and bandages changed. During that time, Tony describes himself as ‘totally disabled.’
In September this year, Tony, as a patient ambassador for prevention of surgical fires, spoke at a conference held in York by the Association for Perioperative Practice (AFPP). There, perioperative practitioners from across the country gathered to listen to Tony’s experience.
“I was speaking to lots and lots of different professionals in the medical service and they'd never heard of it [being set on fire during surgery]. It was a rarity for them,” Tony says.
Tony’s now working with different health agencies, with the aim of stopping preventable surgical burns entirely.