Did your heart surgery expose you to a deadly bacterial infection? Find out what’s leaving open chest surgery patients scared and frustrated.

Undergoing open heart surgery isn’t an easy decision. The risks of a heart valve replacement, heart bypass, heart transplant, or other cardiothoracic surgery are serious. Some patients don’t even survive the procedure, and others suffer serious complications like a stroke.

But hundreds of thousands of survivors of heart operations have learned that the dangers didn’t end when they left the operating room. Even years later, they could face a life-threatening infection – and it didn’t have to happen.

The problem involves a medical device used in 150,000 U.S. surgeries per year. A rare but dangerous type of bacteria can live in the Stöckert 3T Heater-Cooler device. When exposed to a contaminated device, patients can develop a deadly infection.

If you think your heart surgery put you at risk, a lawyer for a heater-cooler infection can help. Call (856) 778-5500 and let us review your case for free.

Is There a Ticking Time Bomb in Your Chest?

If you had a severe cardiac problem, you may have thought that it was a “ticking time bomb.” If you didn’t get it fixed in time, it could lead to a fatal heart attack or heart failure.

Unfortunately, if your heart surgery exposed you to a contaminated heater-cooler device, then your original medical problem wasn’t the only catastrophe waiting to happen.

Heart Surgery Heater-Cooler Infections

Photo Credit: Pixabay, public domain.

“You can have a ticking bomb in your chest and you don’t know,” the Los Angeles Times quoted a Pennsylvania medical safety expert as saying. It’s not an exaggeration.

The Mycobacterium chimaera bacteria can be deadly. This type of nontuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM) grows slowly. In fact, it grows so slowly that it can take years to present symptoms.

Those symptoms it does present aren’t the easiest to identify:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle aches
  • Night sweats

As it is, these symptoms are “general and nonspecific,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. That makes it hard to identify these signs of infection. In patients who are already in poor health and struggling to recover from surgery, diagnosing NTM is even harder.

An “Alarming Gap” in Patients’ Knowledge of the Risk

What’s the best way to solve this problem? All 150,000 patients per year exposed to a contaminated Stöckert 3T Heater-Cooler device could begin taking antibiotics. However, they’d have to take the drugs for years. There’s no way to be sure the slow-growing bacteria isn’t present. It might just not have produced symptoms yet. Having all of these patients take antibiotics for so long could cause more harm than good. As with any drugs, these antibiotics have side effects. Many of the patients taking them wouldn’t even need them.

There is, unfortunately, no easy test to check early on whether an individual patient has contracted the infection. As a result, there’s no sure way to tell who needs treatment and who doesn’t.

The simplest way to cope with the danger is to educate patients on the risk and the signs to look for. That’s the intent behind the patient notification letter hospitals are now sending out, at the urging of agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC. But patients aren’t educated nearly enough.

“There is an alarming gap between what’s reported to the agency and what’s shared with patients,” according to Consumer Reports. The FDA waited years to take action in this case. These contaminated devices were exposing patients to the bacteria as early as January 1, 2012. By 2015, it was clear that something was wrong. The device manufacturer updated the instructions for cleaning the Stöckert 3T Heater-Cooler System. In December 2015, the FDA sent the company a warning letter about the infection.

Yet it wasn’t until late 2016 – in some cases, even early 2017 – that patients finally learned they were at risk. And those patients aren’t happy about the danger they’re facing or the time it took to find out they had been exposed.

Patients’ Response to the Heart Surgery Warning Letter

Even once patients did get a notification letter warning them of the infection risk, that letter left a lot to be desired. Was a recitation of the odds, a list of vague symptoms, and the number for a hotline really enough to help patients who could be facing deadly infections? Or would a letter like that leave you feeling frustrated, fearful, and confused about your options?

To many patients, this letter seemed to offer little in the way of explanation, reassurance, or guidance regarding what to do next. These patients had survived risky open heart surgeries, only to learn that they could very well die from the bacteria they were exposed to during that surgery. With no answers and barely any support, the letters effectively seemed to do little more than wish these patients good luck.

These patients are now turning to people who really are on their side, people who will advocate for them: their attorneys. A number of heater-cooler infection lawsuits have already been filed against LivaNova, the company that acquired the Stöckert 3T Heater-Cooler device’s manufacturer, Sorin.

Our attorneys are fighting to help patients exposed to contaminated heater-cooler devices. We’re helping them find access to the medical care they need. We’re collecting all of the evidence necessary to prove that the device’s flawed design is what caused them to develop this rare but serious disease. And we’re pursuing the full amount of money damages they deserve.

You don’t have to deal with a heart surgery infection all on your own. You deserve help – and we’re ready to offer that help at no upfront cost.

The consultation is always free, so call (856) 778-5500 today. We’ll take care of everything else.