Heart Surgery Patients Die of Bacterial Infection in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania hospital has set up a dedicated website and toll-free phone line to quell patients' fears after announcing four heart surgery patients were discovered to have died apparently from bacterially contaminated medical devices.

WellSpan York Hospital in York, PA is notifying 1,300 patients who had open-heart procedures from Oct. 1, 2011 to July 24, 2015 that they may have been exposed to deadly bacteria. Four patients who had such surgery have died.

"We know that the news of this potential risk of infection may be concerning to our open-heart patients," said Keith Noll, senior vice president of WellSpan Health and president of the hospital, "We sincerely regret any distress that it may create for those patients and their families."

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) and a call center (866-217-2970. It also sent out a news release with detailed information on what happened.

The bacterium involved is nontuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM) commonly found in soil, water, and even tap water.

It is usually not harmful, but found its way into the afflicted patients through aerosolized NTM from heater-cooler devices used during the surgery.

The staff at the hospital had not known how the patients became ill until a journal article in Clinical Infectious Diseases published in July 2015 described the scenario.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Infection and the Pennsylvania Department of Health investigated and agreed that the infections likely developed in that manner.

The patients who died all had cormorbidities but their deaths were likely associated with the use of the devices. The device manufacturer, Sorin Group, in June issued new guidelines on how to safely use the devices.

But the hospital also conceded yesterday that cleaning instructions issued with the device by the manufacturer were not followed precisely.

The CDC and state investigations took three weeks and ended in late July. Four other patients who were found to have the infection are still alive, the hospital said. The deaths were in October 2010, December 2012, August 2014, and March 2015.

The hospital has set up a website www.WellSpan.org/yorkopenheart