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Peter J. Brodhead | Feb 3, 2015

Amputations Associated With The 3M Bair Hugger Forced-Air Warmer

Categories: Product Liability

The Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket was introduced more than two decades ago and has been widely used during surgical procedures to shorten recovery time and decrease the risk of excess bleeding. Warming devices such as the Bair Hugger allow the patient’s body temperature to remain at a more normal level. The devices are also used to treat hypothermia. Yet as far back as fifteen years ago, there were reports of complications regarding these warming devices, particularly when used improperly. In one case the Bair Hugger hose was not connected to the blanket, resulting in third-degree burns to a patient’s lower legs. The patient required plastic surgery and skin grafting, yet was left with permanent scars.

Complications Such as Amputation from the Bair Hugger

In addition to injuries from improper use of the Bair Hugger, it now appears there are a number of serious complications, including amputation of limbs, associated with the device. Many believe these complications are a result of the design of the Bair Hugger. The design causes excess heat from the forced-air warming blanket to create hot-air currents between the surgeon and the patient, transporting floor-level air (with all its contaminants) up, into the surgical site. In particular, orthopedic infection or deep joint infection can occur when the airflow is interrupted, stirring settled contaminants. No convection currents were detective when either no warming was used at all during the surgery or when conductive warming devices were used.

Inventor of Bair Hugger Explains the Risk of Infection During Orthopedic Surgery

According to the inventor of the Bair Hugger, the risk during orthopedic surgery is particularly severe because the bacteria which lands on an artificial hip or knee produces a biofilm. This biofilm makes the surgical site impervious to antibodies as well as to antibiotics. Joint infections can be devastating for the patient, resulting in prolonged hospitalizations, six-to-eight weeks of IV antibiotics and—if amputation does not result—a re-implantation of the joint. This means that even those patients who are lucky enough not to lose a limb as a result of the deep joint infection could conceivably be unable to return to work or their normal life for three months or more.

3M Denies Responsibility

Despite 3M’s denial of responsibility, at least four independent peer reviewed studies have shown the Bair Hugger creates a contaminated airflow. 3M argues they are not responsible for injuries to consumers because they properly informed surgeons and anesthesiologists of all potential risks. The company also attacks the validity of those independent, peer reviewed studies, and, in fact, ECRI deems the current research “inconclusive.” Rosie Bartel, a well-known patient advocate speaks out regularly about the 3M Bair Hugger forced-air warmer, urging patients to avoid the Bair Hugger at all costs.

Bartel speaks from experience as she was infected with MRSA during a knee-replacement surgical procedure in which a Bair Hugger was used. Since that time, Bartel has undergone twenty-seven surgeries, eventually losing her leg to the hip. Her MRSA remains active, and Bartel offers this caution to patients: “If your hospital is choosing to use forced-air warming, maybe it’s time to look for a hospital that doesn’t use that.”

A federal lawsuit filed in Kansas, alleges the Bair Hugger was responsible for Timothy Johnson becoming infected with MRSA, which eventually led to the amputation of his leg. Johnson underwent knee replacement surgery in 2010, contracting MRSA after a Bair Hugger was used during his procedure. Johnson’s complaint alleges 3M was aware of the potential risks associated with the Bair Hugger, yet made no attempt to either warn healthcare providers of the risks or redesign the device.

The lawsuit further states that 3M has gone out of its way to discredit or conceal valid scientific studies which might harm their sales of the Bair Hugger. Those injured by a 3M Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket are strongly advised to speak to a knowledgeable product liability attorney who is familiar with the Bair Hugger dangers.