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3M’s Bair Hugger Lawsuits Heating Up

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Columbia, SCAfter having his foot amputated, Patrick contracted a severe infection next to the bone, which he believes could only have happened in the operating room. He blamed the doctors and the hospital, until he found that the forced air warming Bair Hugger blanket used during his surgery could have spread airborne contaminants while warming him up.

“My friend first alerted me to this warming blanket causing infections,” says Patrick. “She came to the hospital when I was in pre-op and remembered seeing me wrapped in the blanket. She remembered the teddy bear logo.”

Patrick then did some research and discovered more than 50 Bair Hugger lawsuits against 3M, filed by orthopedic surgery patients who contracted deep-joint infections. “I was actually relieved that there could be an explanation. I had previously discussed a medical malpractice lawsuit with a local attorney but these Bair Hugger complaints made sense,” Patrick says. He could understand acquiring an infection in an incision area. Hospital staff, a variety of medical equipment and even bed linens could be the harbinger of infection. But a CT Scan revealed this infection was deep, and nowhere near the incision site.

Patrick’s wife is a respiratory therapist in another hospital and she made a call to determine that Patrick was indeed wrapped in the Bair Hugger blanket pre-op and post-op, and during surgery.
“The operating room is a sterile environment and not a place for these blankets,” he adds.

Patrick had his foot amputated last year, due to a diving injury that happened 15 years ago. It was such a bad break that orthopedic surgeons figured he would be better off with a prosthetic, and there was nothing more they could do to save his foot. After surgery he had a lot of pain and discoloration of the stump. His wife said it wasn’t looking good and then, without any warning signs, he developed a fever that spiked to life-threatening.

“Right away my doctor got me into the hospital and did a CT Scan, which showed a pocket of infection bigger than a golf ball at the end of my leg, almost on the bone,” Patrick says. “They opened and drained it, pumped me with heavy-duty antibiotics and put me in a wound-vac, essentially a torture chamber, for several weeks. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced.”

Patrick was worried that he could lose more of his leg. His surgeon said he would do everything in his power not to go above the knee during the second surgery, but Patrick did lose another four inches of his leg.

“There are no words to describe the physical trauma I went through,” says Patrick. And of course there are financial concerns. It was some time before he could return to work. “But the worst part was the emotional trauma, not knowing what was going to happen, wondering if I would lose my entire leg because of this infection...”

Although the Bair Hugger has been in hospitals since 1987 and used in more than 200 million surgeries, experts are questioning the device and attorneys are filing lawsuits. Even the inventor of the Bair Hugger, Dr. Scott Augustine, has said that the device creates infection risk and he is expected to testify for injured plaintiffs.

One plaintiff is Carol Wiltshire. She and her husband filed a lawsuit on November 4 in Madison County Circuit Court against 3M Corporation, OSF Healthcare, Dr. Bruce Vest, and Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. The complaint alleges that Carol Wiltshire contracted a post-surgical infection after knee replacement surgery and the four defendants failed to use the skill and proper care required for her recovery. She is seeking $50,000 and Jeff Wiltshire is seeking the same amount for loss of consortium. The complaint is Madison County Circuit Court case number 15-L-1421.

Another Bair Hugger lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota alleges that 3M knew for years about the increased infection risk from its forced-air blanket.

The Star Tribune (Nov 15, 2015) quoted Dr. Augustine, who is now chief executive of Eden Prairie’s Augustine Temperature Management, which sells a similar warming device called the HotDog. “With regard to orthopedic infections, a scare is what’s needed. This product should never be on another orthopedic patient.” Will Bair Hugger lawsuits provide enough of a scare? To be continued…


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