Fatal intraoperative cardiac arrest after application of surgifoam into a bleeding iliac screw defect

Branko Skovrlj, Soriaya Motivala, Fedor Panov, Jeremy Steinberger, Jeremy Stuelpnagel, Samuel K. Cho, John Caridi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Design: Case report.

Objective: To describe the presentation, management, and autopsy findings in a case of a fatal intraoperative cardiac arrest after application of an absorbable hemostatic agent into a bleeding iliac bone screw defect.

Summary of Background Data: To the authors' knowledge, this represents the first reported complication of intraoperative death associated with Surgifoam (Ethicon) thromboembolization to the heart and lung microcirculation after its application into a bleeding bone defect.

Methods: A 56-year-old male was undergoing revision fusion surgery for pseudarthrosis after multilevel thoracolumbosacral fusion with pelvic fixation for degenerative scoliosis. Intraoperatively, upon removal of the right iliac screw, heavy venous bleeding was encountered, which was stopped after application of 10 mL of Surgifoam into the screw defect. Approximately 5 minutes later, the patient's end tidal CO 2 dropped, and his pulse was lost. Epinephrine was administered and the patient was immediately turned to supine position and cardiopulmonary resuscitation initiated. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed unsuccessfully for 30 minutes at the end of which the patient was pronounced dead.

Results: Autopsy findings revealed angulated particles of hemostatic agent with entrapped red blood cells partially to completely occluding small-to-medium-sized vessels of the heart and lungs. The cause of death was pulmonary and cardiac embolization of foreign material from the surgical screw defect to the vessels of the heart and lungs, significantly compromising respiration and blood flow causing sudden death.

Conclusion: Although Surgifoam is an excellent hemostatic agent for use in spinal surgery, it must be used with extreme caution in the setting of heavily bleeding bone defects after pedicle cannulation or removal of instrumentation. In cases when brisk venous bleeding is encountered, signifying potential compromise of an emissary vein, use of other hemostatic agents such as bone wax may be a safer option.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1239-E1242
Issue number20
StatePublished - 2014


  • Acute cardiac arrest
  • Bleeding bone
  • Death
  • Ilium
  • Surgifoam
  • Thrombin
  • Thromboemboli
  • Topical hemostatic agent


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