PHILADELPHIA -- As the surgical team began delicate heart surgery on a premature, 2-pound infant, the unthinkable happened. The baby boy suddenly became engulfed in flames.
Doctors and nurses immediately doused the fire and tried to revive the baby at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, but it was too late. He died soon after.
"We really aren't sure what happened," a hospital official said at a news conference.
Mark Bruley, summoned to the scene from his lab across the country in Pennsylvania, had an answer in five minutes.
That case, more than two decades ago, was still fairly early in the career of Bruley, a biomedical engineer at the nonprofit ECRI Institute in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Thousands of cases later, he has solidified his reputation as a premier investigator of medical accidents the world over -- with a particular expertise in the rare, but horrific, problem of surgical fires.