Despite the fact that four independent peer-reviewed studies have been published, detailing the dangers of forced-air patient warming devices such as the Bair Hugger, manufacturer 3M continues to assure doctors and patients alike the device is safe. In fact, a recent letter sent to healthcare professionals from VP of 3M Patient Warming, Bob Buehler, asserted the claims regarding the dangers of the Bair Hugger are misleading and “designed to instill fear.” Yet even the inventor of the Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket, Dr. Scott Augustine, has claimed the Bair Hugger poses a serious risk of bacterial infection, particularly among those receiving an implant device such as an artificial knee or hip or an artificial heart valve.
How the Bair Hugger Forced-Air Warming Blanket Works
The Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket is used in the prevention and treatment of hypothermia among surgical patients. Doctors have long known of the benefits associated with keeping patients warm during surgery, particularly in lessening the recovery times and preventing excessive bleeding. The Bair Hugger is comprised of a warming unit which is attached to a disposable blanket with ventilation holes. Warm air is blown through a hose into the blanket, distributing warm air around the patient
Air Surrounding Bair Hugger Devices Contained 2,000 Times More Contaminants
Dr. Augustine began telling doctors to stop using the Bair Hugger several years ago. Augustine found that the design of the Bair Hugger forced hot air down to the non-sterile floor of the operating room, then the heat would rise, bringing a whole host of contaminants with it, surrounding the surgical site. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery determined the air circulated by the Bair Hugger system contained a whopping 2,000 times more contaminants than the air circulated by a warming device which does not use forced air1. In what is surely not a total coincidence, Dr. Augustine no longer has a financial stake in the Bair Hugger, but has developed what he believes to be a much safer alternative to the Bair Hugger. The new device works more like an electric blanket, rather than using forced air.
Bair Hugger Lawsuits
A Texas man developed a deep joint infection following surgery using a Bair Hugger warming blanket. The man subsequently underwent fifteen additional operations. Another Bair Hugger lawsuit claims the plaintiff developed an MRSA infection following surgery using a Bair Hugger, and was eventually forced to have her leg amputated. A third plaintiff, Timothy Johnson, underwent right total knee arthroplasty using the Bair Hugger, subsequently developing a severe deep joint infection.
Johnson required multiple surgical procedures, and, ultimately, amputation of the leg. Johnson claims in his lawsuit against 3M the Bair Hugger forced-air warming device used during his surgery introduced Methicillin-resistant Staphylococus into his open wound. More specifically, the Johnson complaint alleges the hot air produced by the Bair Hugger accumulated under the surgical drape, then was forced to the contaminated operating room floor. At that point, the contaminated hot air rose, depositing bacteria from the floor into the surgical site.
Failure to Warn on the Part of 3M?
The Johnson lawsuit claims 3M was aware of the problems associated with the Bair Hugger as far back as 2009, yet continued to produce and market the device as being safe for general and orthopedic surgeries. If it is proven that 3M was aware of the risks for deep joint infection associated with the Bair Hugger, it is possible they could be found liable for failure to warn. Those patients who have suffered serious injury as a result of the Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket should speak with a knowledgeable product liability attorney who can assess the facts of their Bair Hugger injury.