March 15, 2018
Ulyanovsk, Ulyanovsk Oblast, Russia
Ekaterina Fedyaeva (Екатерина Федяева) is accidentally poisoned with formalin, leading to her death 3 weeks later
Fedyaeva (28, pictured) had elected to undergo surgery to remove ovarian cysts in preparation to begin having children. During her operation, formalin was mistakenly introduced into Fedyaeva’s abdominal cavity instead of saline. (Formalin contains formaldehyde and is sometimes used as a disinfectant and antiseptic, though it is toxic in larger quantities than what is necessary to sterilize surgical equipment.) The medical staff seemed to notice the error immediately and flushed Fedyaeva’s abdominal cavity.
Fedyaeva’s family noticed the doctors seemed to be secretive around the patient and her visitors after the operation, including injecting Fedyaeva with unidentified medications and speaking in hushed tones. When Fedyaeva’s condition worsened, she was transported to intensive care in a Moscow hospital. She suffered from multiple organ failure, required the use of an artificial kidney, and lapsed into a coma. She regained consciousness briefly, which gave her family hope, but ultimately succumbed to the formalin poisoning on April 5.
An investigation revealed the medical error and three key staff members were held responsible. A nurse, Olga Karbysheva, was stripped of her ability to practice medicine for three years, as were obstetrician-gynecologist Gelnaz Zhalaletdinova and Valentina Rodionova, the now-former head of the department of gynecology. For their parts in the cover-up of the incident and abuse of power, Zhalaletdinova was sentenced to 6 years in a penal colony while Rodionova was sentenced to five.
Various English-speaking news outlets erroneously reported Fedyaeva’s saline drip had been mistakenly replaced by formalin, with tabloid-style newspapers going so far as to claim she had been “embalmed alive,” such as the New York Post (“Russian woman embalmed alive in deadly hospital mistake”) and The Sun (“Russian woman, 27, dies in agony after she was ‘embalmed alive’ instead of being put on saline drip in hospital blunder”). These articles grossly misinterpreted the facts, as tabloids often do, to increase sales.
Scutti, Susan. “Woman dies after being given formaldehyde instead of saline.” CNN. April 11, 2018. Accessed: March 15, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/10/health/russia-formaldehyde-surgery/index.html
Ермакова, Александра. Смертельная халатность: как жительница Ульяновска умерла в больнице от введённого по ошибке формалина. RT. April 7, 2018. Accessed: March 15, 2020. https://russian.rt.com/russia/article/500835-smert-vrachi-formalin (image source)
“В Москве скончалась женщина, которой в больнице Ульяновска по ошибке ввели формалин.” TACC. April 5, 2018. Accessed: March 15, 2020. https://tass.ru/proisshestviya/5099286