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It's most common to nick the bile duct that connects the gallbladder and liver. That can often be repaired with minimally invasive surgery, resealing it to stop leakage of bile and treating any infection with antibiotics.
Nicking the liver seldom is life-threatening; it's a solid organ.
Nicking the intestine is an especially rare event. A small hole sometimes will reseal on its own, and the intestine's folds can hide a perforation, leading to delayed diagnosis.
But a perforation means bacterial-laden intestinal contents start leaking into the abdomen, which is supposed to be sterile, and can require open surgery both to fix the leak and to literally cleanse the abdominal cavity, Olden said.
It's both a medical error and a known risk of surgery. "It should not happen, but sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts, it can happen," Olden said.
Virginia Hospital Center has said only that Murtha received "aggressive critical care interventions."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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