Van Wey Law is currently representing patients who have contracted infections following open heart surgeries. We are particularly concerned for those who may have been exposed to bacteria in the Stockert 3T heater-cooler units used in cardiothoracic procedures.
Maintaining a safe temperature is a vital part of open heart surgeries. Doctors use heater-cooler units to warm blankets and other devices that regulate patients’ body temperatures while their hearts are stopped.
Stockert 3T Heater-Cooler Units Associated with Mycobacterium Chimaera Infections
The Stockert 3T Heater-Cooler, which uses a water tank to warm those instruments, came on the market during the mid-2000s and became a widely used tool.
However, around late 2011-early 2012, doctors observed an increase in bacterial infections among heart surgery patients. The reports were disconcerting because the infecting bacterium typically appears in soil and water, not people.
The FDA investigated the cases and determined that a bacterium called non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM) was growing in the machines and being transmitted to humans. FDA researchers theorized that as the Stockert 3T released steam through its exhaust vents, the water became aerosolized, and the bacteria became airborne. The NTM could then enter patients’ open body cavities and begin colonizing.
Following the FDA’s report, Stockert recalled the faulty model in 2015 and released new devices with explicit instructions on how to clean them properly. But it’s unclear whether those measures worked. At Van Wey Law, we continue to receive calls from clients who have undergone open heart surgery since 2015 and are now experiencing symptoms similar to those associated with NTM.
We estimate that more than half a million people have been exposed to this bacterium. Hospitals that used the Stockert 3T have sent letters to patients who underwent procedures with the heater-coolers alerting them to the possibility of infection. This type of bacterium can lie dormant for months or even years before patients begin to show symptoms, so anyone who may have been exposed to the faulty machines should take the possibility seriously.
What You Should Know About Infections from Stockert 3T Heater-Cooler Units
If you received such a letter or think you may have been exposed to NTM, here’s what you need to know.
First, don’t panic. People come into contact with NTM all the time because the bacterium proliferates in water, and most never experience adverse effects. But when someone’s immune system is compromised, as it is during surgery, the bacterium can cause health problems. However, even if a Stockert 3T was used in the operating room during your surgery, you may not have contracted the bacterium. Yet it is worth knowing what to look for.
Symptoms of NTM infection include:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Surgical site infection
- Renal insufficiency
Contact your doctor at the first sign of any of these symptoms, no matter how mild they seem. NTM infections can remain dormant for up to seven years, and they become much more difficult to treat as time goes on. The earlier your doctor catches it, the more effective the antibiotics will be at eradicating the disease.
We’ve seen tragic cases in which undetected NTM infections led to severe post-surgery complications and even death. We urge you to be proactive for the sake of your health and long-term financial planning.
Hiring An Attorney for NTM Infections from the Stockert 3T
If you have received a letter from your hospital but haven’t experienced any worrying symptoms, we still encourage you to schedule a consultation with us. Due to the long latency period, it’s vital that you act as soon as possible.
If you haven’t received a letter notifying you of potential exposure, it will be more difficult to bring a case against Stockert because it would be very difficult to identify the type of machine used during your surgery. But a letter indicates that you likely have grounds for a suit, regardless of whether you’re showing symptoms. We may be able to help you recover past and future medical expenses related to the infection, in addition to past and future wages, other economic loss, and punitive damages.
We know that recovering from open heart surgery can be emotional and challenging even without the possibility of post-operation infection. That’s why we’re ready to provide counsel and support as you navigate this uncertain time. Call us today to schedule a consultation and discuss your options.