WICKENBURG, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A health warning for health care workers. Surgical smoke is a danger looming in the operating room that many states are working to eliminate.

Here in Arizona, one surgeon says it nearly cost him his life.

[WATCH: AZ surgeon warns about the dangers of surgical smoke]

“I was dying, very simply put,” said Dr. Anthony Hedley. “I was very short of breath and I thought what on earth is going on.”

That was 2013 - he went to a pulmonologist and was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The tissue in his lungs had thickened and stiffened, making it difficult for his body to circulate oxygen.

“He said we don’t know what causes it, there is not cure and it is 100% fatal,” said Dr. Hedley. His health in a rapid decline, Dr. Hedley, a lifelong orthopedic surgeon, had to step away from his passion.

“My abilities to do anything were so diminished I was on oxygen 24/7. It was very demoralizing I was without a doubt on the way out,” said Dr. Hedley.

That’s when he received a lifesaving double lung transplant. But still, Dr. Anthony Hedley, a nonsmoker, wondered, why did this happen to him? So he dug deep and that’s when he stumbled upon surgical smoke. “I thought that's my culprit.”

Surgical smoke, also known as bovie smoke, is a common occurrence in operating rooms across the country.  It occurs when a high-heat electrical tool is used to dissect and cauterize during surgery. Dr. Hedley says, “In the course of those 40 years I created a hell of a lot of smoke.”

But how dangerous is that smoke? According to the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses, there are some 500 thousand health care providers who are exposed to surgical smoke every year.

More than 150 hazardous chemicals have been identified in surgical smoke and they estimate the average daily impact on an OR team is the equivalent of 27 to 30 cigarettes a day. It’s addressed on the OSHA website as potentially hazardous but there are no nationwide regulations.

“Well it’s disheartening because obviously we are all exposed to it,” said Laura Meaney a nurse anesthetist who has spent her entire career in operating rooms. “I remember seeing it fill the room and we'd get to the point we got tired of it and someone would start sucking it and getting it out of the way.”

However, the culture is changing and health care workers and driving that change. Rhode Island and Colorado have passed laws requiring all hospitals and surgical centers to be smoke free.

While other states consider similar legislation. Here in Arizona, Wickenburg Community Hospital decided to go smoke free all on its own. “It’s paramount to the health of your healthcare providers,” said Meaney. “We are providing health to you we need a safe environment to work in.”

Surgeon Dr. Robert Ripley sees no excuse any more for surgical smoke when there are more technologically advance bovies equipped to eliminate it.

“It is now designed with a suction tubing in addition to electrical tubing so as smoke is created at the tip, a significant amount gets pulled right up through the suction and into neptune machine and into the filter,” said Dr. Ripley.

Wickenburg Community Hospital earned the official Go-Clear Award and Smoke Free designation in June.

“It’s nice to earn the award but sort of sad there has to be an award. You’d think it’d be commonplace there wouldn’t need to be an award,” said Dr. Ripley.

Dr. Hedley agrees. He is back in the operating room but never without his trusty smoke evacuation pencil. “I think whatever cost there is, it is justifiable.”

While nurses in Georgia seek a law to ban surgical smoke, we reached out to the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association to see if there was any interest in mandating surgical smoke free environments here locally. They provided Arizona’s Family with this statement.

“Hospital operating rooms are a highly regulated environment. At this point, the science does not support mandating hospitals to use surgical smoke evacuation devices. However, the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association is always open to keeping the conversation going regarding efforts to improve workforce and patient safety.” – Ann-Marie Alameddin, President and Chief Executive Officer, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.


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