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More Indiana hospitals sending warning letters to their heart surgery patients

13 Investigates has now learned more hospitals are warning their patients that they might have been exposed to a dangerous bacteria during surgery.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) -13 Investigates has now learned more hospitals are warning their patients that they might have been exposed to a dangerous bacteria during surgery.

Terre Haute Regional Hospital, St. Mary’s Health in Evansville, and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis all tell WTHR they used the same type of medical device that has been linked to infections and at least a dozen deaths in heart surgery patients nationwide.

While there have been no reports of any related infections in Indiana, at least a dozen Indiana hospitals are following a recommendation by the FDA and CDC to contact patients who might be impacted. The patients were all hooked up to a heater-cooler machine, which is used to control the temperature of patient blood during open heart surgeries. The operations took place between 2012 and 2016.

Terre Haute Regional and St. Mary’s have not provided WTHR with the number of patients that received warning letters. St. Mary’s did note that the hospital used the device for only a few months, so the number of patients impacted is very small.

IU Health says about 1,000 children were exposed to the heater-cooler units at Riley Hospital for Children, and their families will be receiving warning letters in the next few weeks. The health system told WTHR it continues to use the heater-cooler machines but has taken steps recommended by state and federal agencies to ensure their safety.

“IU Health is following the revised methods for the machine's usage. There are currently no alternative machines available, and the medical team feels it is still in the patient’s best interest to receive life-saving care such as open heart surgery, made possible by this machine. As of December 1, 2016, potential risks related to this piece of equipment are discussed with patients prior to surgery,” said IU Health spokeswoman Alexandra Neff. “This is a national equipment issue, and we have been working with the CDC, other Indiana-based healthcare systems, the Indiana State Department of Health and the Marion County Public Health Department on a common approach in addressing this matter.”

IU Health provided WTHR with a list of four affected hospitals on Wednesday, but that list did not include Riley, the state’s largest pediatric hospital which performs hundreds of cardiac operations on children annually. Following additional questions from 13 Investigates, IU Health added Riley to its list of affected hospitals on Thursday afternoon. IU Health now says it will be sending warning letters to about 6,500 open heart surgery patients at five of its hospitals in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Bloomington.

Terre Haute Regional Hospital says it is following recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control for hospitals. “We are following the manufacturer’s updated cleaning and usage instructions, which are designed to eliminate risk,” their statement said. “We’re not aware of any infections among our patients from this device at this time. “

St Mary’s Health says it replaced all of its devices.

Community Health, Franciscan Health and the Roudebush VA Medical Center say their facilities also used the medical device now at the center of a nationwide warning. They have all sent hundreds of warning letters to their patients.

At least 8,400 patients around Indiana (and 600,000 nationwide) are being warned they are at an increased risk of developing an NTM infection due to heater-cooler units possibly contaminated with a dangerous bacteria. The infection can take months or years to develop and to present symptoms.

Symptoms of NTM include night sweats, muscle aches, joint pain, weight loss, fatigue and unexplained fever. Government health officials say the risk of infection is generally very low and is not contagious.

More information about the infection, the medical device and the warning can be found in WTHR’s original report. That is where you can also find statements from Indiana hospitals about this issue.

As of 12/29, Indiana hospitals and hospital systems that have sent or are sending warning letters to their heart surgery patients (number of patients impacted):

  • Community Heart and Vascular Hospital (600)
  • Franciscan Health Indianapolis, Crown Point, Lafayette (800)
  • IU Health Arnett, Lafayette (610)
  • IU Health Bloomington (640)
  • IU Health Methodist, Indianapolis (3,950)
  • IU Health University, Indianapolis (number not availabe)
  • Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, Indianapolis (1,000)
  • Roudebush VA Medical Center, Indianapolis (430)
  • St Mary’s Health, Evansville (number not available)
  • Terre Haute Regional Hospital (number not available)

Hospitals reporting that they did NOT use the heater-cooler device in their cardiac surgeries:

  • Columbus Regional Health
  • Deaconess Health System, Evansville
  • Parkview Health, Ft. Wayne
  • Reid Health, Richmond
  • St. Vincent Health Network