Hundreds of open-heart surgery patients in TN could be at risk for fatal infection

(Courtesy: CDC)
(Courtesy: CDC)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Hundreds of open-heart surgery patients in Tennessee could be at risk for a fatal infection.

Hospitals have been sending letters to patients who had the surgery anytime between January 2012 to November 2016, warning them of the risk.

Vanderbilt said it sent letters to 400 patients when it learned about the potential contamination of a device it used during open-heart surgery.

The device that was potentially contaminated is the Stöckert 3T heater-cooler device. It is thought to have been contaminated in the factory where it’s manufactured in Germany.

(Courtesy: Stöckert 3T)
(Courtesy: Stöckert 3T)

The CDC issued an alert in October saying the device has been linked to Nontuberculosis Mycobacterium (NTM) infections in Iowa and Pennsylvania.

In Tennessee, there has been one confirmed NTM case, but the state health department expects there will be more.

The good news is that the risk of infection is very low.

Anywhere from 0.1 percent to 1 percent of patients who received open-heart surgery at a hospital that uses the Stöckert 3T will actually contract the disease.

But the device is widely used in Tennessee; 60 percent of the hospitals that perform open-heart surgeries use the Stöckert 3T.

“We’re always concerned about infections, particularly those that are transferred in a health care setting,” said Dr. Pam Talley with the Tennessee Department of Health. “Being aware of the risk factors is the most important, critical piece so that we can prevent ongoing infections in the future.”

(Courtesy: CDC)
(Courtesy: CDC)

Health officials say while the risk is low, NTM is very difficult to diagnose and treat. It’s also fatal.

Symptoms of NTM is a pimple-like wound that oozes, fever, weight loss, and night sweats, to name a few.

If you are concerned, ask your hospital if they use the Stöckert 3T. There is also a specific blood test you’ll need to take.

“That’s why the letter is so important,” said Dr. Talley. “If the clinicians aren’t thinking about it and if the hospital isn’t thinking about it, the appropriate blood test won’t be done.”

TriStar Centennial hospitals told News 2 they also sent out letters to their patients. They wouldn’t tell us how many letters were sent.

The VA says none of its hospitals in Middle Tennessee were affected. Neither was St. Thomas.

Related documents:

Sample Patient Notification Letter

Sample Primary Healthcare Provider Notification Letter

Sample Letter for Patients to take to healthcare provider