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Mass Tort Law

Bair Hugger


Important Facts About The 3M Bair Hugger

If you or a loved one has undergone joint surgery (such as a total hip arthroplasty or total knee arthroplasty), your doctors or surgeons may have used the 3M Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming System on you during your procedure without your knowledge. The 3M Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming system is often used with a warming blankets or other devices, and is employed before, during, or immediately after surgery, to prevent hypothermia and stabilize body temperature. However, use of the 3M Bair Hugger has been shown to increase the potential of developing serious, sometimes deadly infections, including Sepsis, MRSA and other intra-joint problems.

Recent studies have substantiated the claim, with the device's inventor, Dr. Scott Augustine, now affirming the forced-air patient warming blanket can and does increase patients' risk of infection due to the spread of harmful contaminants through the air while warming them, according to a 2010 article published by the New York Times.

What Is the Bair Hugger?

ike similar products used during surgery, the Bair Hugger, manufactured by 3M, is a patient warming device. Patients are wrapped a special blanket attached to the device to regulate their body temperature, which they are unable to do on their own while under anesthesia. Because of the body's inability to warm itself while anesthetized, patients remain at risk for developing hypothermia, much the same way they would if left out in freezing temperatures without the proper attire to keep them warm.

Hypothermia can lead to dangerously low body temperatures and even death. The Bair Hugger serves to warm the patient through a system of forced, warm air. The device allows for doctors to reach their designated incision sites while at the same time regulating the patient's body temperature.

The Bair Hugger can be used before, during and after surgery. The system has a built-in hour meter that allows for temperature adjustments and an attachable, snap-fit hose, which is able to swivel at three different points in order to connect to the surgical warming blanket,  or other attachable device, in various positions.

The Bair Hugger is lightweight and portable, and is meant to be moved throughout a hospital or surgical center. It also has the ability to attach to hospital gowns, post-operative blankets, and other items to regulate patient temperature.  The Bair Hugger is the warming device most often used in hospitals.

Dangers of the Device

Numerous lawsuits have already been filed that allege the Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming System, estimated to be used in roughly 80% of hospitals over 160 million times, does not properly contain the warmed, forced air, thereby redirecting its circulation during surgery and releasing infectious airborne bacteria.

Due to its portability, the unit is rarely cleaned and goes from one patient to the next, and one procedure to the next, effectively spreading unfiltered air which is forced through and blown out of the device, throughout the surgical arena, and throughout a facility. This unfiltered air often contains contagious pathogens that result in severe infections. These infections are particularly dangerous when they occur deep within the joint.

As a result, thousands of patients who were draped in the Bair Hugger have developed MRSA, sepsis, and serious deep bone and joint infections among others, which often require other costly and painful surgeries. These infections are sometimes attributed to rare or unusual pathogens.  Sometimes, further and multiple joint replacement surgeries are necessary, with some patients needing cement antibiotic spacers placed in their bodies to prevent more damage. Though 3M denies these claims, Dr. Augustine responded in defense of the patients.

Speaking to the Star Tribune in 2015, Augustine said, "We studied this extensively for about 18 months. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the waste heat rises every single time. This was reported before 3M even bought the company. 3M can say that it doesn't happen. … But when you are going against a basic law of physics, it's kind of an absurd thing to say."

Two examples of these severe infections include a patient who allegedly contracted MRSA from bacteria the device had blown up from the floor during the operation that resulted in a leg amputation, and a 70-year-old patient who allegedly developed a deep joint infection that required 15 additional surgeries to cure.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA for short, is the cause of numerous infections throughout the body. It is typically contracted in hospitals by patients who have experienced a long stay or have undergone surgical procedures, and can be deadly if left untreated.

In addition, unlike most other staph infections, MRSA is particularly hard to treat with antibiotics, leaving those who suffer from it to deal with its often life-altering side effects, including amputation.

Infections caused by more unusual pathogens are also sometimes found.

Sepsis is a potentially deadly complication related to infections in the body. Sepsis is a severe complication of infection, which may lead to inflammation throughout the body. Such inflammation can result in severe damage to the body's organ systems and in more severe cases, complete organ failure.

If sepsis turns into septic shock, it causes a person's blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels, which can result in death. People who have weaker immune systems are more likely to contract sepsis, though it can happen to anyone.

Sepsis must be treated early with strong, intravenous fluids in order to increase the chances of survival.  Sepsis also requires in-patient hospital treatment with multiple, very strong antibiotics. The antibiotics used to treat sepsis often take a toll on the patient's body, which is trying to fight an infection, especially after major surgery.   Sepsis is often results in severe, permanent damage or even death.

A bacterial bone or joint infection, also referred to as septic or bacterial arthritis, is extremely serious. Such infections can seep into the joint that was replaced, causing severe bone damage and a quick weakening of the cartilage that surrounds and protects the joint itself.

The results of this type of infection can lead to loss of motion, further and more extensive surgeries, extreme and lasting pain, as well as constant swelling and redness around the affected joint.   Septic or bacterial arthritis and other sequelae of infections may occur after use of the Bair Hugger warming device on a patient.

Symptoms of potential infection that should not be ignored include:

  • Continued chills/night sweats
  • Excessive heat, warmth and/or swelling at the wound site
  • Frequent fevers
  • Exhaustion
  • Draining at the site of the wound

Patients must be aware of these symptoms and seek immediate medical attention for suspected infection.

Patients who already suffer from certain medical conditions or those who are immunosuppressed may be at greater risk for infection.  This includes those with Diabetes, HIV, Cancer and other similar ailments. It is crucial to take action if you have had joint replacement surgery, you are unsure whether a Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming System was used, and you have experienced any of the symptoms/conditions of infection listed above, or have had additional surgeries as the result of infection.

In addition, infections deep within the joint may be not be found until long after the initial joint surgery.  Patients should be aware that infections found upon follow-up surgeries as a result of device failure may be related to infections developed after use of the Bair Hugger during the initial joint surgery.  Some patients endure years of pain, multiple joint replacements and surgeries, and long courses of hospital administered antibiotics as a result of severe joint infections.

Important Questions to Ask After Undergoing Joint Replacement Surgery

  • When did you undergo joint surgery? Where? What kind?
  • Did you suffer from an infection or other complications after surgery?
  • How soon after surgery did you experience complications?
  • What types of complications or infection did you experience?
  • What were your symptoms?
  • Who treated you for these complications?
  • What types of treatment did you undergo/require?
  • Did you have any long term symptoms or complications?
  • Did your symptoms or complications affect your ability to engage in work or your usual activities?
  • If you have been unable to perform work, for how long?
  • Did you incur medical bills as a result of these complications?
  • Did you require additional surgery or additional medical treatment?

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

The time to file is now, before it's too late. The statute of limitations, better known as the amount of time you have between developing an infection and filing a lawsuit, varies by state but it's best to take action as soon as possible. Even if you're unaware whether or not a Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming System was used before, during or after surgery, don't worry. We're here for you and will do everything we can to help you obtain all necessary information and assist you with your claim.

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