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Study: Hydraulic Fluid Had No Impact on Duke Patients

Posted July 27, 2007

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— Patients exposed to surgical instruments washed in hydraulic fluid at two Duke University Health System hospitals suffered no more subsequent health problems than people in general, according to a report issued Thursday.

Tainted surgical instruments were used on about 3,650 patients at Duke University Raleigh Hospital and Durham Regional Hospital in late 2004. A contractor drained used elevator hydraulic fluid into empty barrels that were labeled as detergent, and the fluid was later used to wash surgical instruments.

Duke Health officials have maintained that the hydraulic fluid would have no impact because the instruments were sterilized after being washed. But outraged patients – some of whom had complained of health problems following their surgeries – demanded that the hospital system monitor their health in case they developed problems.

PharmaLink-FHI, a Durham-based private health research firm hired by Duke Health, reported in a new study that almost 90 percent of the exposed patients had no major clinical problems in the past two years. Another 8.6 percent had been hospitalized since their exposure, while 2.5 percent reported an infection and 1.8 percent had died.

The average time between exposure and subsequent hospitalization was more than six months, according to the report. Likewise, patients who developed infections did so several months after exposure, the report stated, concluding that no correlation could be made between the two events.

"When compared with expected medical outcome rates, the PharmaLink-FHI registry did not identify any rates that were increased above those expected of a general or similar patient population," the report stated.


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  • larry1 Jul 29, 2007

    when people work on cars and get this fluid on the hands (with cuts from working on cars)they don't get sick and die.come on,and did you think that a someone was going to do a study for free.

  • Tired Of Excuses Jul 28, 2007

    Mistakes happen, accidents happen and yes there are some medical professionals who aren't worth two cents. However, the vast majority of people in healthcare do care and are good at what they do. It wasn't the intent of Duke to wash instraments in hydraulic fluid, someone notice something wrong and brought it to someone's attention. No hospital is perfect. Duke saves lives and unfortunately some lives are lost. For many, Duke is their last hope because the smaller hospitals can't handle the complicated cases.
    Let's face it, the vast majority of adult Americans don't take care of their health, don't see a doctor on a regular basis or are non-compliant with the instructions given by their doctor to lose wt, stop smoking then expect miracles when it comes to their medical care. This was a horrible accident but trust me things happen at other hospitals too that we never hear about.
    As patients we must educate ourselves, ask questions and be pro-active in our medical care.

  • lolly Jul 28, 2007

    "My 15 year old daughter died of leukemia"

    I am so sorry. I cannot imagine the pain you must be in.

  • mrtwinturbo Jul 28, 2007

    You're gonna have to find another target for a payday if that is your intentions.
    Steve Crisp

    Not my intentions at all, our daughter passed away a year before this incident happened. Though I agree that a lot of people would see this as a payday. I don't even like to hear the word Duke and hospital in the same sentence

  • Steve Crisp Jul 27, 2007

    To glo and mrtwinturbo:

    The only impact that hydraulic fluid had on anyone was increasing their propensity to sue.

    It doesn't even make a bit of sense that overwhelmingly minute and temporary exposure to brake fluid would cause any problems. And sterile brake fluid at that. I've had significantly more than that get into cuts over the years.

    Sorry about your loss and any health problems you may have, but a sterile, micro-thin, brake fluid film on surgical instruments is not the cause of them.

    You're gonna have to find another target for a payday if that is your intentions.

  • pomodoroz Jul 27, 2007

    Last time I had surgery there I told my doc "Don't set me on fire, don't transplant the wrong heart in, and don't dip the instruments in hydraulic fluid" He didn't. I'm good.

  • TexasKate Jul 27, 2007

    Could the contractor read English? I won't share all the details with you about the pharm tech who filled scrips by "matching" the letters on the bulk bottles with what was written on the scrip. Or howz about the RN who kindly took her time to explain to me that a physician was not the same as an MD. She was so proud. How did she pass the board? Oh thats right Affirmative Action. You have to get into smaller private hospitals to stay alive.

  • blackdog Jul 27, 2007

    Hey Slick !...

  • turkeydance Jul 27, 2007

    H.F. didn't hurt? where's Nifong when you need him?

  • mrtwinturbo Jul 27, 2007

    Duke Health officials have maintained that the hydraulic fluid would have no impact.....

    Of course they are going to say that. My 15 year old daughter died of leukemia after 9 months of treatments there, an hour after she passed away we were asked by the staff if we wanted an autopsy done there at Duke. That made no sense to me, why would I want them to do an autopsy, if they found that something was done wrong do you think that they would incriminate themselves? I think not. During our stay there for the 9 months I witnessed several unsanitary practices like nurses would empty a bed pan and then administer IVs without washing their hands. We want nothing to do with Duke any longer. And do not encourage anyone to go there