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Open heart surgery patients may have been exposed to infection

Modern medicine saves numerous lives, but sometimes the equipment, personnel and other factors severely injure and even kill the patients it was supposed to save. One newly discovered problem arises from equipment used in open heart surgical procedures.

It's painful to hear medical malpractice stories and even more painful to have to live with the consequences of it firsthand. There are objects left in bodies, improper procedures and sometimes faulty equipment. It's up to the regulators to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Mycobacterial infections

Recently, the FDA has been investigating an outbreak of mycobacterial infections linked to a cooler device that helps regulate temperature during surgery. The German-made device, called a Karst cooler, circulates water in a contained unit, but research shows that infection can be spread through the air when it blows exhaust toward a patient or toward medical equipment.

Damage done

The Karst cooler was introduced in 2006 and is now common in heart surgery-- about 60 percent of US hospitals use the machines, with different layouts and equipment set-ups influencing how the airborne infection materializes. Though documentation began in 2010, it took until a 2014 letter from the manufacturer before the FDA and hospitals began to look closer. There has been at least one US outbreak since, in South Carolina.

At least 12 deaths are directly attributed to infections since 2010, with the number likely to grow as further research unveils more cases that were not originally diagnosed.

Medical malpractice and hospital negligence

The investigations are ongoing and more outbreaks are likely to occur because the cooler is essential to most surgeries today. Hospitals are scrambling to redesign their surgical beds to reconfigure the exhaust vents as they explore new options, keeping the problematic machines because they serve a vital role.

Symptoms and looking forward

If you've had open heart surgery, or any invasive surgery since 2006, you may be or may have been at risk of mycobacterial infection. Infection is internal and doesn't immediately surface. Its symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath and nausea. Because the product was on the market for nearly 8 years before any thorough investigation into the airborne bacteria, many are or have been at risk of serious illness or even death.

If a medical check-up or procedure has created new problems, consulting with a medical malpractice attorney may provide an outlet to the stress and psychological pain of dealing with an errant process, while also compensating for the medical maladies that followed.

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