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Heart Surgery Patients Could Be At Risk For Deadly Infection

Patients who go through heart surgery may feel like they’ve been given a new lease on life. Heart surgery can include a coronary artery bypass, laser revascularization, heart valve replacement, heart transplant, or aneurysm repair. Any surgery involves some risk of complication but now the CDC is warning patients who had common heart surgeries that they may be at risk of a deadly infection.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to patients who have undergone open heart surgeries since 2012. Officials have warned of a potentially life-threatening infection related to a common medical device used in open heart surgical operations. Patients with valve implants or prosthetic implants are at an increased risk of nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM), a bacterial infection.

The CDC estimates almost 600,000 patients could be at risk of a dangerous infection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed 12 deaths so far from patients who were infected with the deadly bacteria. Between July 2010 and August 2016, the FDA received reports of more than 90 patient infections, with the infection confirmed in 79 patients. The CDC still says the risk of infection is low. In one hospital where a patient was infected, they estimate the risk of a patient getting an infection from the bacteria is somewhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000.

The source of the infection has been identified as a heater-cooler device commonly used in open heart surgery. The Stockert 3T heater-cooler warms and cools the patient’s blood and organs during the operation. These devices may have become contaminated by the NTM bacteria at some point during manufacture. This bacteria can spread to the patients during surgery.

Symptoms of NTM infection can include muscle aches, joint pain, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and night sweats. NTM lung infections can include a cough that does not go away, coughing up blood, and shortness of breath when active. Once identified, it may take more than a year of treatment with antibiotics to cure the patient.

The symptoms may take a long time after surgery to develop, making diagnosis more difficult. In some cases, the infection can be missed or delayed for years. The bacteria is slow growing and there is not test to determine whether a patient has been exposed to NTM. A lab culture is required to confirm the bacterial infection.

The infection was originally reported after investigators in Switzerland found six open-heart surgery patients contracted NTM infections. Since then, other cases have been confirmed in Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has confirmed 21 heart surgery patients were infected.

If you have lost a loved one due to a deadly infection or medical mistake, the Gilman & Bedigian team is here to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of your medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward. Call us today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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