updated 8/6/2004 7:50:36 PM ET 2004-08-06T23:50:36

Relatives of a woman whose surgeon left a rolled-up towel inside her chest seven years ago have filed a lawsuit against the clinic where the surgery was performed.

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Bonnie Valle often complained about an odd feeling in her chest in the years following a procedure at the Cleveland Clinic, family members said.

“She always said, ;On the left side, it feels like there’s something there. It felt like something moved,”’ said her daughter, Jeanne Clark.

Doctors told Valle the symptoms reflected the progression of her emphysema and that the benefits of the surgery would not last forever, Clark said.

Patient donated her body
When she died in June 2002, a day after her 60th birthday, Valle donated her body to the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine. During dissection, a faculty member discovered a green surgical cloth the size of a large hand towel behind her left lung.

Clark filed a lawsuit last week seeking unspecified damages against the clinic and her mother’s Canton-based physician, Jeffrey Miller. The lawsuit contends the towel produced costly complications and ultimately caused her mother’s death.

“Her body was literally growing around it, trying to isolate it,” said Clark’s attorney, Mark Okey. “It’s a foreign object, and her body was trying to fight it off.”

Cleveland Clinic spokesman Cole Hatcher said the hospital had not seen the lawsuit yet and does not comment on pending litigation. Dr. Thomas J. Kirby, who performed the surgery, is no longer with the clinic.

A message left seeking comment from Miller was not immediately returned Friday.

Valle, a former nurse’s aide, came to the Cleveland Clinic for lung-reduction surgery in October 1995. Smoking nearly two packs of cigarettes a day since the age of 15 had left her with emphysema and dependent on a constant supply of oxygen, Clark said.

In a letter to the medical school, Miller wrote that he did not think the towel affected the duration or quality of Valle’s life.

“She lived seven years ... which is certainly as well as one would have expected her to survive given her severe emphysema and poor pulmonary function and overall condition,” Miller wrote.

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