An Important Role
During an invasive procedure such as open-heart surgery, the body’s organs need to be kept at a safe temperature in order for the patient to have the best chance of survival. The body’s blood has to circulate properly as well. The heater-cooler device is designed to help in both areas. One model of heater-cooler device known as the Stockert 3T Heater Cooler System is used in an estimated 60 percent of the approximately 250,000 open-heart surgeries performed in the U.S. each year.
Part of the heater-cooler system consists of a reservoir that contains water. This water is used to maintain a safe body temperature, heating or cooling the organs as necessary.
However, many people are filing lawsuits alleging that some devices spew contaminated water into the operating room. This water contains nontuberculous mycobacteria, which is typically relatively harmless but can do a great deal of damage to someone with a compromised immune system – someone such as an open-heart surgery patient.
If contaminated water sprays onto the open chest cavity of someone on the operating table, the resulting infection could be fatal. A hospital in Pennsylvania reported that 12 open-heart surgery patients were infected with nontuberculous mycobacteria linked to a contaminated heater-cooler device. Six of those infections proved to be fatal.