Can A Heart-Lung Machine Cause A Brain Injury?


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Cardiopulmonary bypass machines make many life-saving cardiac surgeries possible, but they don’t come without risks. Even when everything goes right, severe complications during and after surgery are possible. When a healthcare professional is negligent in their use of a bypass machine, severe brain injury or death can result.

What Is A Cardiopulmonary Bypass Machine?

A cardiopulmonary bypass machine, also called a heart-lung machine, is a device that can temporarily perform the roles of a heart and lungs during surgery. A tube is placed into a major vein to transfer blood into the bypass machine, where it is filtered, cooled, or warmed as needed, and oxygenated before a mechanical pump returns it to the body via another tube placed in a major artery.

When Is A Bypass Machine Used?

While some cardiac surgeries can be performed on a beating heart, many procedures can only be done if the heart is still. Valve replacement, aorta repair, corrections of cardiac malformation, and heart and/or lung transplants can only be done with the use of a cardiopulmonary bypass machine.

Can Cardiopulmonary Bypass Machines Cause Brain Injury?

Many patients suffer from complications after heart surgery, and one of the most common of those complications is impaired brain function. While many of these cognitive impairments are temporary, and patients make a full recovery within six months, permanent brain damage is also possible. Seemingly mild brain injuries can also trigger the development of chronic or progressive dementia in some patients.

Heart surgery can expose the brain to stressors like oxygen scarcity, inflammation, and low body temperature. These stressors have a cumulative effect on brain function, which often causes a decline in the brain’s ability to function properly.

While all cardiac surgeries, in general, increase the risk of brain injury, cardiopulmonary bypass machines carry a higher risk of brain damage than “off-pump” techniques that do not utilize a bypass machine. It’s assumed that this is caused by the bypass machine releasing small, often microscopic, particles and air bubbles into the bloodstream, which are then carried to the brain, where they cause damage. To ensure that the risk of brain injury is kept as low as possible, the surgeon and the perfusionist who operates the bypass machine must be hypervigilant about a patient’s oxygen level, body temperature, and the dosage of blood thinner that the patient is given to prevent their blood from clotting inside the machine.

Is Brain Injury After Cardiac Surgery Common?

More than 20 percent of patients over the age of 65 and 33 percent of patients over the age of 80 can expect to experience delirium (confusion and disorientation) after a cardiac operation, and some cognitive defects can be seen in as many as 60 percent of patients in the week following their surgery. Cognitive dysfunction remains present in around 25 percent of patients after one year.

Patients who suffer from severe brain injuries have a long and challenging road ahead of them. They may need to relearn simple tasks, often requiring physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

What Can Happen If A Perfusionist Or Surgeon Is Negligent?

Complications such as brain injuries are not uncommon after cardiac surgery, even when everything goes right. But if a surgeon or the perfusionist operating the bypass machine makes a mistake or commits some other form of negligence, more severe complications become likely.

If the machine is not properly maintained or not clamped properly, larger air bubbles may escape into the bloodstream and cause an embolism. Poor placement of the tubes leading from the machine into the body can result in severe bleeding that can decrease blood flow to the brain. If the patient’s body temperature is not regulated correctly, it can stress the brain. If too much or too little of the blood thinner medication is given to the patient, they could develop bleeding in the brain or clotting in the bypass machine.

How Can Medical Malpractice Lawyers At Ross Feller Casey Help?

If you or a loved one developed permanent brain damage or died following cardiac surgery with a cardiopulmonary bypass machine, it’s essential to discover the details about precisely what happened during surgery. If proven that a doctor or perfusionist was negligent in their duty of care, you may be entitled to compensation.

Cases like these can be complex, so finding a legal team with extensive experience in medical malpractice is crucial. Contact Ross Feller Casey today for a free consultation. With over $3 billion recovered for our clients, our record of success speaks for itself. There’s no fee unless you win, so contact us today and help us get the justice you and your family deserve.

About the Author

Blake Kaplan joined Ross Feller Casey in 2017 and focuses his practice on representing individual clients who have suffered catastrophic injuries due to medical malpractice and defective products.

Blake Kaplan

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