Many people are at risk of surgical site infections either during or after their surgery. Surgical site infections (SSI) are caused by pathogens that enter the surgical wounds before they have healed. It is possible for pathogens to enter the body when the doctors do not practice optimal health safety or, as has been recently alleged, through the use of forced air warming-blanket technology during the procedure. It is hard to detect the presence of an infection immediately post-surgery. Oftentimes patients notice SSIs only after they have been released from the hospital.
SSIs are dangerous because they can cause a number of complications such as a prolonged recovery time, increased hospital stays, additional surgeries, or even amputation in very severe cases. If you suspect that you may have contracted an SSI post-surgery, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Did the surgeon explain any and all side effects of the anesthetics, especially hypothermia? Did he explain the procedure to combat those side effects?
- Were you kept in the hospital for longer that the doctor had initially indicated?
- Did you require additional surgeries after the joint replacement?
- How soon did you require additional surgeries?
- Did you have to remove or replace your joint replacement?
- Did you require antibiotics that weren’t initially prescribed to you?
- Did you suffer from pain longer than you expected?
The Bair Hugger system is currently under scrutiny for its possible link to SSIs. It was first developed by Dr. Scott Augustine in 1988 for Arizant Healthcare, which was acquired by 3M in 2010. It is estimated that the Bair Hugger System has been used more than 160 million times, with more than 80% of US hospitals using it during surgeries that require general anesthesia. The Bair Hugger works by drawing air through a filter and warming the air to a specific temperature. The warmed air is then delivered via a hose to the blanket, which is placed over the patient. This maintains optimal body temperature throughout the procedure.
The system allegedly puts surgical patients at a significantly increased risk of SSIs because the blower unit is often located on the floor, outside the sterilized air zone. Laminar airflow in the operating room is used to keep the surgical site free from contaminated air. The Bair Hugger allegedly disrupts the laminar air flow by stirring up “dirty” air from below the table and circulating it through the room.
Why is the Bair Hugger System Used?
During a surgery, one of the most common complications is that the patient becomes hypothermic. Nearly two-thirds of patients experience a significant decrease in temperature within the first 45 minutes of surgery. In human beings, the range within which body temperature can fluctuate is very narrow. Many factors can reduce core body temperature during a surgery, such as temperature in the surgery room, IV fluids, or the anesthesia used. Hypothermia is dangerous as it increases the recovery time and can cause any number of other complications post-surgery. The Bair Hugger system is therefore used during surgery to regulate and maintain proper body temperature.
What are the Risks Caused by the Bair Hugger System?
Lawsuits cite a number of reports and case studies conducted over the years, claiming that these studies suggest there are significant risks from using the Bair Hugger system because the system pulls in “dirty” air. This air, the claims continue, are taken from areas outside the sterilized surgical zone, and contains an increased amount of bacteria and contaminants. As a result, patients have a much greater risk of contracting debilitating infections such as sepsis, MRSA, and deep joint infection. These infections can have a number of different complications and side effects, including:
- Chronic pain and suffering
- Repeated hospital stays
- Additional surgeries
- Permanent disability
- Amputation of infected limbs
- Physical therapy
- Antibiotic treatment therapy
- Removal of hip implant or knee implant
- The need for the placement of an antibiotic in the infected joint
These are some devastating examples of SSIs:
Tommy Walton, a 70-year-old hip replacement patient, filed a civil lawsuit against 3M after he contracted an infection post-surgery. Walton claimed that he required 15 surgeries, including hip removal, to recover from the infection. He sued for more than $1 million in damages.
Barbara Libby filed a lawsuit against 3M when she contracted a deep joint infection after her initial surgery. She needed 7 additional surgeries to rectify the illness. Libby continues to suffer from permanent disability.
Timothy Johnson, a 52-year-old main in Kansas, claimed that he had been infected with MRSA during the surgery. Johnson developed a deep joint infection that required multiple surgeries and, ultimately, amputation.
If you suspect that you may have contracted an infection as a direct result of joint replacement surgery, contact Morgan & Morgan immediately to discuss your options. You may be entitled to receive compensation.