Update: Outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease at UW Medical Center Linked to Heater-Cooler Devices
October 26, 2016 – Amid an investigation into a recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has infected at least five patients — including two who died — at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC), the hospital has announced that all heater-cooler devices used at the facility have tested positive for Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria that produces symptoms including cough, fever, muscle aches, shortness of breath and headaches. Even previously healthy patients who contract the disease have a 1 in 10 chance of dying if they don’t receive prompt medical treatment.
Piechowski was rushed to the hospital where doctors determined that he had suffered a stroke. Scans revealed what appeared to be blood clots around his new heart valve, and he was found to have endocarditis – an infection of the heart’s inner lining that occurs when bacteria or other germs spread through the bloodstream and attach to damaged areas of the heart.
Piechowski is suing the hospital and the maker of a heater-cooler device used during the surgery that he says infected him with a slow-growing bacteria that caused his stroke.
The device used in Piechowski’s surgery, the Stöckert 3T made by LivaNova PLC, has been linked to at least 28 bacterial infections in heart surgery patients in the U.S. over the past year alone, according to the Washington Post. Infections have also been reported in Europe, with some patients diagnosed as long as four years after surgery.
Heater-coolers are commonly used in life-saving surgeries because of their ability to keep a patient’s organs and blood at a specific temperature during the operations. The devices are used in about 250,000 heart-bypass surgeries in the U.S. each year, with more than half of the operations performed with the Stöckert 3T.
The bacteria associated with the heater-cooler devices, known as nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), are commonly found in nature and aren’t usually harmful. However, NTM can cause severe infections in patients who have had invasive procedures, particularly when they have compromised immune systems.
Piechowski’s lawsuit alleges that LivaNova manufactured a device that prevented it from being reliably cleaned and maintained, and that the Stöckert 3T heater-cooler is neither safe nor effective. Meanwhile, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center was negligent and reckless in its care of the device, according to the lawsuit.