Old Kidney Machines Caused Deaths
Whether this actually was the first time this event happened is a matter of
some dispute. According to a report by writer Shawn Windsor in the
Huntsville Times, a lawyer representing the injured patients charged in
court papers that a similar event occurred in Japan several years before the
1996 outbreak. The attorney claimed that this event was brought to the
attention of the product manufacturer and that the manufacturer failed to act.
The manufacturer strenuously denied these allegations. The case eventually was
settled out of court. Hutter and colleagues say the Japanese incident was
caused by different toxins released by a different chemical process than that
which occurred in the U.S. case.
Hutter says no one is to blame. "It was unfortunate. It could have
happened to anybody at any hospital with the technology available at the time
-- anybody who happened to have bad luck with the fibers from the factory with
the bad conditions and the long storage time as well."
Some quarter of a million U.S. patients currently are undergoing this
process, called hemodialysis. CDC surveillance shows that 43% of the centers at
which they are treated use dialyzers with the same type of membrane used by the
case patients. These dialyzers actually have a very good safety record, Hutter
says. An additional 14% of centers use similar filters. Ironically, a recent
study shows that products treated with the chemicals that broke down in the
Alabama hospital are safer than untreated products.
- In 1996, seven patients hooked up to artificial kidney machines in Alabama
suffered severe headaches and lost their vision and hearing shortly after a
filtering alarm sounded on their equipment. Two patients died within 48 hours
and three more died in the next 13 months.
- Investigators say the dialyzers were both very old and flawed, and can
release substances that harm vision as well. However, they add that this
situation is very rare and probably no one is at fault.
- About 250,000 Americans get this treatment, called hemodialysis. The CDC
says nearly half of the nation's kidney facilities use dialyzers with the same
type of filters as the Alabama patients. Doctors note, however, the equipment
has a very good safety record.