Woman Has Closed Casket After Being Burned in Bedside Explosion at Hospital

Police are investigating the death of a woman in an incident involving a defibrillator fire at the hospital where she was staying.

The fire occurred while staff at HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood were attempting to resuscitate COVID-19 patient Denise Jill Asaro, 69, of Cleveland, Texas.

Houston police said the fire also caused a small explosion, according to ABC 13 news. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Asaro's niece, Kristi Robbins, said the incident caused significant burns to her aunt. Robbins told ABC 13: "It was literally her entire upper torso that was burned horribly, to the point of having to have a closed casket."

Police have launched an investigation into the woman's death. It is not yet known whether Asaro died due to the fire or another factor.

In a statement to ABC 13 HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood called the incident "tragic" and said it was assisting local authorities as well as starting an internal investigation.

It added: "Because we are obligated to protect patient confidentiality, the hospital is not at liberty to discuss any specific details about the incident or the patient involved.

"We remain committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all of our patients, visitors, and colleagues."

Defibrillator fires are not unheard of. First aid organization Real First Aid states that fires have been reported during defibrillation and states high-oxygen environments can be a factor.

And in a Q&A on its website, the Anaesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF) points to studies by the ECRI medical safety body that have found defibrillation fires can occur when there is a source of high oxygen concentration of more than 50 percent within 30 cm (11.8 inches) of the defibrillation site, and when electrical discharge causes an arc.

It also cites one ECRI case study, published in Health Devices in 2003, in which medics disconnected a patient's breathing system before going ahead with a defibrillation procedure, but allowed the oxygen to continue flowing onto the patient's bed.

The defibrillation discharge caused a fire to flash across the patient and ignited the breathing system, which was extinguished when the system was switched off. The patient was slightly burned.

Defibrillators are medical devices that aim to correct a heartbeat that is uneven, too slow, or too fast. They can also be used to restart a heart that has stopped.

They do this by delivering an electric shock to the patient that may get the heart back into its normal rhythm.

Defibrillator
A stock image shows a doctor or nurse holding defibrillator pads. The device is used to restart or correct a patient's heartbeat. Wavebreakmedia/Getty