Child heart patients treated for rare surgical infection

At least 12 child patients have contracted a rare infection after undergoing heart surgery at a New Orleans hospital, which has contacted 55 others that may have been infected too.

The infection is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium abcessus, which affects surgical sites and can lead to respiratory infections and pulmonary diseases, tissue infections and, in extreme cases, infections of the central nervous system.

Symptoms of a myobacterium abcessus infection include swelling, redness and drainage at the incision site and fever. 

The children were cardiac surgery patients at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, and are now undergoing treatment there to fight the infection. Though 12 cases have been identified, it’s not clear how many other kids could be sick. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls the bacteria ‘challenging,’ because it is resistant to treatment, requires multiple kinds of therapies, and is treated over a relatively long period of time, up to several months

A dozen young children have contracted a rare bacterial infection after heart surgery at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans

 The hospital’s vice president and chief medical office, John Heaton, told The New Orleans Advocate that his staff was ‘able to jump on this pretty quickly,’ and that the infection is treatable.    

The hospital is taking measures to evaluate other patients that may have been affected, in addition to the 12 already identified. Children’s Hospital has contacted at least 55 other patients who have undergone cardiac surgery there in the last several months, and set up a hotline for any other families that are concerned their children might be affected.

Rachel Pagnan, whose daughter had heart surgery at the hospital in January of 2015 said that she received a letter from Children’s Hospital last December, notifying her that the temperature regulation devices had been contaminated. But, she said, the letter then claimed that the machines had been contaminated by the manufacturer. 

‘This is what most of us heart parents were worried about!’ Pagnan said in a Facebook post.  She told Mail Online that she and many of the other parents of children under cardiac care at the New Orleans hospital have moved their kids to other hospitals. 

According to Pagnan, Children’s Hospital is now claiming that the contamination came from tap water. ‘Why on earth would they have ever used tap water for something as serious as open heart surgery?’ she wonders. 

In a press release, the hospital said that the children developed the infection in mid-August. It also says that it traced the source of the infection to one particular temperature regulation medical device used during bypass, in one particular operating room. 

Heaton told The Advocate that those affected were isolated to a ‘small minority’ of patients that underwent an operation in that room, between May and July of this year. The infected devise has been decontaminated and disposed of, and the room has been ‘terminally disinfected,’ Heaton told the Advocate.

This is not the first time the hospital has come under fire for an outbreak, though of a different infection.

Children’s Hospital says that it has never had an outbreak of this particular infection before and that it would not charge patients for evaluation or treatment related to the myobacterium abcessus outbreak. 

What is myobacterium abcesssus?  

The bacterium (often referred to as m. abcessus) is commonly found in soil, water and dust. 

It has been known to affect medications and medical products including medical devices like the machine at Children’s Hospital. 



The hospital failed to notify families of several children that passed away between 2008 and 2009 that their deaths were caused by a rare flesh-eating fungal infection that they contracted while hospitalized, the Advocate reported. The hospital only notified the families after the outbreak and its outcomes were documented in a medical journal.

The hospital has set up a hotline for families to call if they have questions or concerns that their children may have contracted the infection (504-896-2920).