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Botched Removal of Pacemaker and Defibrillator

Botched removal of  pacemaker and defibrillators can cause death. Millions of  Americans are afflicted with heart rhythm disorders. These disorders may require the insertion of pacemakers or implanted defibrillators. These devices utilize leads, a wire that runs from a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator into the heart’s chambers. The lead wire attaches to the heart muscle and helps the heart maintain rhythm. Like any device that is implanted in the human body, over time, scar tissue forms. It forms around the leads making their removal more difficult.

Typically, during a removal procedure, a specialist uses a laser to burn through the scar tissue. This encapsulates the lead wires. To accomplish this, the laser must go through the major vein leading into the chamber of the heart where the lead is attached. No matter the doctor’s level of experience, the tearing of the vein is an unavoidable risk that results in internal bleeding. If the bleeding is not effectively  repaired immediately, that blood loss can be fatal.

The Danger That Can Occur

In recent studies, only heart specialists perform this procedure at the rate of major complications is between 1.4% and 5.1%. It is also estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 lead wires are extracted each year. The physicians who perform this procedure typically do not do it in a traditional operating room. Rather, it is done in a standard lab with a surgical team that is “on-call”.

For a procedure that could go horribly wrong, its routine performance in a non-operating room setting is mind-boggling. Within the last 10 years, Duke University Medical Center bucked this trend, issuing a policy that required laser lead extractions to be performed in an operating room with a cardiothoracic surgeon present. This is after concluding that it was likely that patients would die during this procedure if a major complication occurred.

Patients Still at Risk

Despite this fact, many doctors continue to put their patients at risk of harm. A more recent survey of physicians who perform laser lead extractions in 2010 found that 64% of them still perform the procedure in a non-OR setting.  25% of the surgeons also indicated that they perform the procedure without the presence of a surgeon or bypass machine.

Botched removal of a pacemaker and defibrillator can cause death or serious injury. If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury or death as the result of a laser lead extraction without the presence of a surgeon or bypass machine, call the law offices of Bennett & Heyman at 410-421-7730.