Kiwi open-heart surgery patients at small risk of infection

Ministry of Health Lack of Action Disappoints Heart Kids NZ

Heart Kids NZ is extremely disappointed at the length of time it has taken the Ministry of Health to release information about the risk of a potentially fatal infection to patients who’ve undergone major heart surgery.

Nearly 6000 patients who’ve undergone open cardiac surgery requiring the use of prosthetic material, have this week been sent letters from the Ministry of Health, informing them a device used during their surgery may have been contaminated with the germ Mycobacterium chimaera.

One suspected case has already been identified and treated in New Zealand. 

The device is a machine known as a heater-cooler, used in many open-heart surgeries to control the temperature of the blood.


Heart Kids CEO Rob Lutter says the MOH has known about the threat since 2015 yet it took the infection of one patient, before informing all patients of the threat.

“While we understand there is only a very small chance of infection (about 1 in 5,000) it’s unacceptable that patients were not informed of this risk earlier.  We’re also very disappointed that it took an infection of a patient for the MOH to act,” said Mr Lutter.

MOH has sent out 1200 letters to Heart Kids families around the country informing them of the risks, symptoms and also providing details of who to contact if concerned.

Rob Lutter says the risk of being infected with Mycobacterium chimaera is so much lower compared to other potential surgical infections, or not having surgery at all, however he believes the Ministry could have handled the situation better.

“We would like to know why the Ministry withheld this information for more than two years.  We believe the MOH still does not inform patients pre-surgery of the infection risk, and we think this practice should change immediately. The Ministry has a duty of care to inform all patients of risks and considering this machine is still in use, then this must be spelt out,” he said.


For more information:

Rob Lutter - CEO

Heart Kids NZ

+64 27 244 8331

Email: [email protected]

Created on: 13 February 2018