Wife says she watched husband catch fire in hospital oxygen explosion

Karen Stark lost Bobby Ray Stark, her husband of 35 years, after an oxygen fire in his hospital...
Karen Stark lost Bobby Ray Stark, her husband of 35 years, after an oxygen fire in his hospital room left him badly burned.(Source: Gray News)
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 1:41 AM MST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV/Gray News) - A Tennessee woman says she watched her husband’s face catch fire after oxygen exploded in his hospital room on Thanksgiving Day. He died a short time later.

Kathy Stark’s husband of 35 years, Bobby Ray Stark, was waiting for foot surgery in a hospital room last Thursday at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. She said he was hooked up to an oxygen tank when his blood pressure dropped dramatically. She remembers one of the 10 nurses in the room called a crash cart.

That’s when a fire sparked, and his oxygen tank, a life-saving device, became life-taking.

“I was sitting in the chair, and it blew up. You could smell the smoke. It was terrible,” Kathy Stark said. “It burned off his beard. He got burned on his chest, his hands, his head and his back, I think.”

She says she also looked into her husband’s mouth and saw it was burnt, WSMV reports. She believes the fire scorched his throat and lungs.

“I just went into shock,” she said. “I’d never seen anything like that, and I said that. And they (hospital staff) said that.”

Bobby Stark was sent to Tristar Skyline’s burn unit, where he died, Kathy Stark said. As her husband’s sole caretaker for seven years, she didn’t expect to lose him in seconds.

“I just wonder what happened and don’t want it to happen again,” she said.

Hospitals worldwide are paying closer attention to this rare but potentially deadly issue.

Brandon Bass, an injury lawyer with The Law Offices of John Day, said fires happen in operating rooms around the world over 600 times a year and can be deadly.

“OR fires, they happen, but they’re not supposed to,” he said. “There’s a bunch of protocols put in place to prevent that from occurring.”

Bass said it takes three components to light up oxygen: fuel – like plastic tubes, oxygen itself and a spark.

“Once it occurs, where’s the oxygen? Where’s the fuel going?” Bass questioned. “It’s deliberately going down and into the person’s lungs.”

The Starks said they are working to hire an attorney and take the case to court. They have also started a GoFundMe for their family, who depended on Bobby Stark’s social security.

HCA Healthcare, which operates several hospitals in the Nashville area, released a statement extending sympathies to the Stark family.

“While we cannot discuss specifics, we are reviewing the care provided to the patient and the functionality of the equipment. The death of a loved one is always very difficult, and our hearts go out to this family,” read the statement in part.