(WUSA9) -- Lenny LeClair underwent routine surgery for a digestive disorder in Florida in 2005. Months later, he began experiencing excruciating stomach pain and non-stop vomiting.
LeClair says, "Over about five months, I lost 100+ pounds. And the doctor who had performed the surgery and left the sponges kept telling me to take milk of magnesia, everything is fine. The sponges had pierced my colon and all of the toxins, the waste was going into my body. I was dying."
Lenny LeClair's still needs a colostomy bag and says his life has been destroyed. Investigative reporter Peter Eisler says USA Today's latest examination of the problem found mistakes like this happen nationwide more than a dozen times a day.
Eisler says, "With 32 million procedures going on in the US, that means that each year, you are talking about 4500 to 6000 cases; means more than a dozen a day.
Traditionally, surgical teams conduct sponge counts before and after an operation, to make sure what goes in comes out. But Eisler says these counts just aren't foolproof, and sponges can be missed.
Eisler says, "They get in the abdominal cavity, particularly if its a trauma case or something goes unexpectedly wrong. Doctors will be using a lot of these to soak up blood so they can see what they are doing."
There is technology available to make sure all sponges are accounted for, including barcodes or radio-frequency tags like the system WUSA 9 profiled 2 years ago at Prince George's Hospital Center. At the end of a procedure, the surgical team waves a wand over the patients body and an alarm sounds if anything's been missed.
Eisler says, "They can all but eliminate the problem. The studies that have been done have found them to be overwhelmingly effective."
Yet fewer than 15%of the hospitals in the country use either sponge detection system, and Eisler says concerns about cost are part of the reason. But, he says compared to malpractice and medical costs associated with getting lost sponges back out, studies have shown the technology saves money, and can eliminate unnecessary pain and suffering.
Eisler adds, "These technologies cost about 8-12 dollars a surgery, a tiny amount of what a surgery costs."
Regional hospitals using surgical sponge detection systems include Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md., Northern Virginia Medical Center/Sentara Healthcare in Woodbridge, Va., Laurel Regional Hospital in Laurel, Md., and Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore, Md.