Colombini-Leaks | How Did a 6-Year-Old Boy Die in MRI Accident?

First, let me say that this isn’t a ‘leak’ in the sense that none of the information I’m about to share is (any longer) confidential. This information is all public record as a result of court filings for the now-settled civil suit surrounding the 2001 MRI fatality of Michael Colombini. There are documents associated with that civil lawsuit which did not wind up as filings with the court and therefore are not a part of the public record. I have no difficulty not releasing those because (among other reasons) I don’t have any of them.

“Why — now — ten years later would you post these documents?”

Excellent question! Here’s why I didn’t publish these long ago…

I didn’t have them.

Yes, the civil suit had been underway for years. Yes, individual documents had been filed and made public during the course of the civil litigation, but the civil suit was only resolved a year ago and it took several months for the last of the documents to be made public through the Westchester County Clerk’s Office (who, by the way, were profoundly helpful in accessing these public records).

Here’s why I am publishing them now… Despite the fact that this is the watershed event in MR safety, the degree to which the industry has really dissected this event and identified the causative factors has been wanting. Desperately wanting.

I’m currently working with a colleague on a root-cause-analysis of this event, drilling down through the simple (don’t have ferrous oxygen tanks in the MR suite) to get at more meaningful elements of this accident that we can work to prevent similar accidents. It promises to be unlike anything you’ve learned about why this accident happened.

Given the trajectory of MR accidents and adverse events, this sort of analysis appears to be desperately needed.

Multi-Year FDA Data on MRI Accidents

So, what are the documents? They are transcripts of the depositions of many of the key people involved in the accident and couple of ‘official’ reviews. These are the source materials. The news accounts you’ve previously read are all synthesized from these (or from others’  interpretations of these). If you’re so inclined, you can download and read these for yourself.

The essential elements of the sequence of events for the accident are these:

  • Michael Colombini, a young boy, was injured from a playground accident
  • The ER had a head CT run, which revealed an unknown / asymptomatic brain tumor
  • The boy had surgery very shortly thereafter to remove the tumor
  • Prior to discharge, the boy was sent for a baseline MRI as a reference for future monitoring
  • The boy was sedated prior to the exam and placed in the MR with a cannula to deliver oxygen
  • Before the exam began, the anesthesiologist observed a decline in O2 saturation, and realized that the oxygen from the wall outlet was not flowing, despite his attempts to turn it up
  • The anesthesiologist called the technologist who was to administer the exam to the door of the MR room, instructing her to find and fix the source of the problem with the oxygen flow
  • This technologist was not familiar with the oxygen supply system, which — in apparent violation of codes — was fed to only the MR exam room from a bulk cylinder without any pressure or flow alarms
  • The technologist sought her colleague who she believed knew the oxygen system and together they entered the MR equipment room to try and fix the supply problem
  • The anesthesiologist cried out for help, though the technologists in the MR equipment room could not hear this
  • A nurse (who had accompanied an earlier patient to the MR suite was returning to retrieve an item she had left) heard the anesthesiologist’s cries for help and handed him a portable cylinder near the door to the MR exam room
  • The anesthesiologist turned to approach the boy with the oxygen tank when the magnetic attractive force of the MRI pulled the cylinder from the doctor’s grasp
  • The tank flew into the MRI where it struck the boy in the face and head, inflicting fatal wounds

The following PDF documents vary in size from 1 MB to 25 MB, and will take a few minutes to download, depending on your connection speed.

Deposition of Patricia Lauria, technologist who was to have administered the Colombini scan
Deposition of Paul Daniels
, other technologist on duty who assisted in the repair of the oxygen supply
Deposition of Jian Hou, MD
, anesthesiologist who sedated / monitored Colombini for the MR exam
Deposition of Terrence Matalon, MD
, Radiologist who was simultaneously the hospital’s Director of Radiology and president of the private company subcontracted by the hospital to provide operations for the MRI service
New York State Department of Health incident report
Westchester Medical Center incident review

As you might suspect, these documents are but the tip of the iceberg of the body of the court filings in this civil suit. However, for those interested in what happened and why (as opposed to the legal maneuvering), these documents are the most illuminating.

In the months ahead, the 10th anniversary of the 2001 Colombini fatality will include a deeper look into this accident and the changes that have taken place (and those that are still needed if we wish to avoid repeating this accident). This has begun, slowly, with the new building code requirements that are being adopted by various US states and the Joint Commission, but may pick up steam with federal government intervention.

Please check back periodically for the latest information on MRI safety… both as it relates to specific preventions, such as ferromagnetic detection systems, and broader awareness such as knowledge of the factors in the Colombini fatality.

Tobias Gilk,
President & MRI Safety Director — Mednovus, Inc.
Sr. Vice President —

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2 thoughts on “Colombini-Leaks | How Did a 6-Year-Old Boy Die in MRI Accident?

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