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Heart Surgery Patient Files Heater-Cooler Infection Lawsuit

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October 20, 2016 — A lawsuit has been filed by a man who developed a severe infection he blames on a heater-cooler machine that was used during his open-heart surgery.

According to Philly.com, the lawsuit was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by Kenneth Piechowski, a man from New Jersey who had open-heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve in December 2014.

The surgery was performed at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Pennsylvania, where 1,100 people were exposed to deadly bacteria on heater-coolers from October 2013 to December 2015. Four of them tested positive for Non-Tuberculosis Mycobacteria (NTM).

NTM is a slow-growing bacteria that may not cause symptoms for years. The same bacteria was found at a facility in Germany where the heater-cooler was manufactured. It is also common in tap water and soil in the United States, but poses no risk to healthy adults.

In May 2015, Piechowski suddenly felt weak and lethargic and suffered a stroke. He had several more strokes over the next few months and was diagnosed with endocarditis — inflammation of the inner lining of the heart.

Endocarditis often occurs when bacteria attaches to an artificial heart valves. Piechowski required another open-heart surgery to replace the valve. In March 2016, a doctor at Penn told him the infection likely came from a heater-cooler machine that was used during his first surgery in 2014.

Heater-cooler machines pump water into a special blanket that regulates the body temperature of a patient during open-heart surgery. Water in the system never directly touches the patient, but it escapes from the exhaust vents. This may allow bacteria to land on a patient, according to the FDA.

 

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