Connie Plumlee has been through a lot. The schoolteacher has survived breast cancer, chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. But she never expected this could happen to her.
Plumlee told Inside Edition, “I hurt so bad, I can’t even tell you the pain. I wake up and this gentleman is over me and he’s got tears and he said, ‘You’ve been burned.”
Connie was undergoing breast reconstruction surgery. The operation was supposed to give her a new body. Instead she woke up to the horrible burns on her face. She had been set on fire during surgery.
How could this happen? Connie says the doctor used alcohol to swab her body down, but turned on a surgical tool before the alcohol had dried. A fire shot up and set her face aflame.
Connie says when the doctor who performed the surgery spoke to her right after the operation, he told her the burns were just a minor setback.
“He compared it to a chemical peel,” said Plumlee.
Now Connie is in constant pain. She has to dab at her mouth to stop a stream of drool, and eating is difficult because she can only open her mouth slightly.
She and her husband Jack have filed a lawsuit against the doctor, Brad Garber, and St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“It could not have happened unless someone was doing something they shouldn’t have been doing,” said Plumlee attorney Clark Brewster.
So how common is this? A recent study found up to 650 surgical fires occur every year in the United States, and experts say all of them are totally preventable.
The once-active 58-year-old grandmother avoids going out in public now. She says people stare at her.
“We’ve made it through cancer, we’ll make it through this. You’re gonna be okay,” said Jack.
“It’s been the worst thing in my life. I’ve never fought so hard to get well,” said Plumlee.
A representative for the doctor said, “We have no comment due to pending litigation and patient privacy concerns.”
Meantime, the hospital didn’t respond to INSIDE EDITION’s requests for comment but have said their thoughts and prayers are with Connie.