Defibrillators are lifesaving medical devices designed to protect patients, but a recent study conducted by the Minneapolis Heart Institute has discovered a pattern of failure among the wires used in defibrillators that resulted in 22 deaths.
These wires, often referred to as "leads," have been implanted in about 79,000 patients in the United States. The manufacturer of the leads, St. Jude Medical, recalled the devices that had the malfunctioning leads in 2011 due to a tendency for the metal wires to erode though their silicone covering. However, researchers claim that the failures that resulted in death were caused by short-circuiting unrelated to the wires' silicone covering. Currently, St. Jude Medical is conducting their own study of 500 patients using the Riata and Riata ST wires that are linked to the 22 deaths.
Both St. Jude Medical and the Food and Drug Administration advise against patients having the leads removed, because surgery is more likely to cause a potentially fatal malfunction than leaving the leads alone. Researchers also found that eight patients died during procedures to remove to their leads.
Defibrillators work by triggering electrical shocks to patients with irregular heartbeats to correct any life-threatening cardiac abnormalities that may arise during normal activity.