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Penn State Hershey Medical Center: 185 call about bacteria

Written by Dylan Segelbaum/York Daily Record-Sunday News | Nov 12, 2015 8:10 AM
penn_state_hershey_medical_center.jpg

FILE PHOTO: Courtesy Penn State Hershey Medical Center

Some people with family members who had surgery between between 2011 and 2015 have different opinions on how news of the possible exposures came out.

(Undated) -- Rena Knarr is a "heart mom."

Her son, Trevor, 9, was born with aortic stenosis, and has had two heart surgeries -- as recently as last June. They were surprised when they found out through the news that Penn State Hershey Medical Center was alerting 2,300 people that they might have been exposed to bacteria, she said.

"I love Hershey -- they have the greatest nurses and doctors," said Knarr, 46, of Newberry Township, "But I don't think the (administration) handled it very well."

Like with York Hospital, some people who were possibly affected by the issue at Hershey Medical Center said they did not get a head's up before the announcement hit the news. That's something several appeared to have different opinions on.

A spokesman for Hershey Medical Center, Scott Gilbert, said in an email that letters will be sent out on Friday to patients. Mailing to that large of a group takes a "considerable effort," and the center wants to make sure it does it right, he said.

Hershey Medical Center on Tuesday said it was notifying people who had open-heart surgery between Nov. 5, 2011, and Nov. 5, 2015, that they could have been put in contact with nontuberculous mycobacteria. Though they're usually not harmful, the bacteria can cause infections in people who have weak immune systems.

Three patients at the center who had the surgery later developed infections. Two have since died, but there's been no evidence that the infections contributed to their deaths.

It's unclear how the infections happened.

That follows York Hospital's announcement more than three weeks ago that it was telling about 1,300 patients who had open-heart surgery that they might have been exposed to the same bacteria. Eight patients likely developed infections from devices that are used during surgery to heat and cool the blood, the hospital has said.

Four of those patients have died, and the hospital said that the infections were likely a "contributing factor."

As of mid-day on Wednesday, 185 people had called a hotline that Hershey Medical Center has set up about the issue, Gilbert said.  He said the people who've called are asking basic questions -- and that they are not experiencing symptoms themselves.

Jennifer Rogoze's husband, Mark, 56, had heart surgery during the four-year period, and found out about the alert from people on Facebook.  She said he called the hotline as a precaution -- and feels comfortable that the risk is minimal.

"They were very receptive to his phone call," said Jennifer Rogoze, 45, of Lebanon. "We're not feeling any sense of concern or alarm or anything like that."

Donna Roupp, of Williamsport, had open-heart surgery at the center last December.

Roupp, 66, said that she was "shocked" when she heard about the possible bacteria exposures, which she saw on the Internet. She hasn't received anything in the mail, but said she'll call if she does not get anything by some time next week.

But some people who are older and might have had the surgery, she noted, do not use computers.

"As far as my heart, everything is going great there," Roupp said. "But, you know, I don't know what's going on."

Fifth York Hospital patient dies

A fifth person has died after being exposed to a rare bacteria during open-heart surgery at York Hospital, said Brett Marcy, a spokesman for WellSpan Health.

The patient had surgery in December 2014 and died in November, Marcy said.

So far, it's been determined that eight York Hospital patients were likely infected, the hospital has said. Five have since died -- and the infections are being considered a "contributing factor." Three patients are still alive and being treated for the infection, Marcy said.

Hotlines for information:

Both WellSpan Health and Penn State Hershey Medical Center have set up separate hotlines to answer questions about the bacteria:

  • York Hospital: (866) 217-2970.
  • Hershey Medical Center: (877) 467-7484.


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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