Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines is notifying open-heart surgery patients of a possible infection risk associated with heater-cooler devices used during heart surgery.
The hospital’s chief infection control officer, Doctor Daniel Gervich, says the risk comes from a common bacteria. “This particular infection is with an organism that is a distant cousin of the tuberculosis bacteria. So, it comes under a category of non-tuberculosis microbacteria,” Gervich says. He says the bacteria are commonly found in nature, including soil and water. Gervich says the hospital and others nationwide found the patients may’ve been exposed to the bacteria through the machines.
“It appears that an attachment to the heart pump becomes contaminated. There is some substantial evidence that this contamination took place at the manufacturer,” Gervich says. He says they believe the cooling coil that cools the person’s body for the surgery led to condensation on the tubing and the bacteria was then in the water and eventually could get to the patient. The CDC estimates the risk of infection to be less than one percent, and says the infection can be treated. Hospitals first sanitized the machines, but Gervich says his hospital then decided to take a more radical step.
He says they replaced all the heater-cooler machines with new machines and reconfigured the operating room so the machines are outside the room. Gervich says coils carrying the cooling fluid now come into the operating room from the machines. Mercy identified two patients who may’ve contracted the bacteria from the hospital’s machines. They sent out letters to 26-hundred patients who had surgeries with the machine from July 1st, 2012 and July 1st, 2016.