Looking for a Latex-Free Pacemaker?

If you tell a hospital or a doctor’s office you have a latex allergy, they will challenge you and say it’s just a sensitivity, it’s not a real allergy. Beware of this irresponsible, uneducated response in the medical world.

Looking for a Latex-Free Pacemaker?

Even though almost everyone in healthcare is aware of the latex allergy, never assume the medial world is latex-free. It’s really quite the opposite. If you tell a hospital or a doctor’s office you have a latex allergy, they will challenge you and say it’s just a sensitivity, it’s not a real allergy. Beware of this irresponsible, uneducated response in the medical world. Quite frequently nurses and doctors tell me – almost everything is latex-free anymore, when it is really quite the contrary! If they ever had anaphylaxis even one time, they would not take this allergy lightly. It is worse than the peanut allergy. Both can suddenly result in death after exposure. If you eat it, breath it or touch it, it can kill you in minutes of exposure. Exposure to it may even cause reactions weeks later. You can’t see it or it’s residue, so try avoiding an unseen monster. It is nearly impossible.

One hospital in my area is still proud to use latex everywhere, in the form of gloves, building materials and even in the flooring, caulking and glues used in tiles and carpeting. In fact, they just recently built a new hospital from the ground up. They could have been the first latex-safe hospital in the area but did not give any regard to the latex-allergic population and used latex everywhere in the building plus they sport boxes of latex gloves in every room! This not only is a dangerous practice; it is still contributing to the problem of increasing cases of latex allergy. I am embarrassed to say that this is my nursing school alma mater and it is very disappointing that they choose to be so ignorant. I can’t even step foot in it or any of the satellite offices for my own or my family member’s medical care.

My mother needed to have her pacemaker generator replaced. This started an inquiry on what brand of pacemaker generator they would be using, which pre-op antibiotic was needed that was not contaminated with latex, in addition to the details of the instrument tray that had masking tape on it that changes from plain to brown stripes when it is sterilized (masking tape is made from paper soaked in latex). In the case of the instrument tray, masking tape on the outside is a good indication that someone assembled the instrument tray for sterilization with latex-contaminated hands if they touched the masking tape on the previous tray. I know this sounds picky and unbelievable, but 4 molecules of latex can cause anaphylaxis and death. Latex is dangerous, in fact the CDC, in an article called America’s Deadly Dust, (circa 1996-1997) indicated that latex was the asbestos of the 90’s! Not to get off track, but latex companies are big like cigarette companies. They were given immunity by the federal government and need I say more…. money talks even when the latex can cause deadly results. This information has been taken off of the Internet so it will be difficult to research.

There was a snippy nurse practitioner that called a week before my mom’s procedure. My mom has a three-page list of antibiotics she cannot take, listed under her allergies. The nurse practitioner wanted her to have Ancef. I told her the antibiotic list says she gets C. Diff from that, on only one dose. My mother and I did not think she should have that particular antibiotic because the episode of Clostridium Difficile (which is violent, contagious diarrhea, about 20+ episodes a day, for which one of the 3 choices for cure of the C. Diff is a carcinogen, the other antibiotic my mother had anaphylaxis to and the third choice is a natural remedy that only works if the case is not severe) which she got from one dose of it that lasted 9 months and finally ended after a week of an extremely expensive experimental drug to end the exhausting, contagious siege of it. I told her she could have erythromycin which was also a broad-spectrum antibiotic. I also told the nurse practitioner, if they insisted on that one I would need to know the brands that the hospital used so I could contact the production managers of those companies to make sure they did not use latex gloves in production, that the rubbery stopper injection port and that the ingredients they used in the production were latex-free, and not contaminated with latex. A few days later, this nurse practitioner called back and said that the doctor wanted my mom to have this antibiotic or he would not do the procedure. She also told us that the doctor said she was not pacemaker dependent and she could live without the pacemaker that she had for 10 years. She said the doctor said she would just get tired without it. (The reason she had the pacemaker was because her heart rate was 30-40 beats per minute and she would have died without it. Her cardiologist and medical doctor disagreed with the nurse practitioner’s statement, and we knew she was incorrect also). The nurse practitioner went on to say, in her bossy, cocky threatening tone, that mom could have it put in at several other hospitals and gave examples that were 100 miles away. She was a real bully. Then she went on to tell me that she did my “leg work” for me and already called the hospital pharmacy about the latex-free Ancef. She said they guaranteed me that it was latex-free and that they don’t use any drugs that have latex in them. I knew this was a lie since I have great difficulty finding a few latex-free medications that I take myself. So, as usual I trust no one that feigns to have indignant authority on latex contamination because they really are ignorant and don’t understand that 4 molecules can cause anaphylaxis. So, I called the company that makes the brand the hospital uses and they, in writing, said they did not use latex gloves in the plant where the make it but they could not guarantee that the ingredients were latex free because they don’t check for that. So….it is therefore considered contaminated with latex. If you have had anaphylaxis to latex, this is the exact kind of ignorance that will kill you with your next reaction. So, you need to check into each part of the procedure yourself and ask for the answer in writing because then when you have a reaction you have a legal leg to stand on. After I got this information, I called the hospital pharmacy and discussed it with them since the nurse practitioner said they guaranteed it was latex free. Interesting how she said that the pharmacy guaranteed her it was latex free but the pharmacy did not agree with that. I might mention here that I asked 3 different people if the doctor could call me about this but I never received a call from him. I am not 100% sure that my messages reached him, but if they did, once again the patient gets ignored because they know better. To make a long story longer, they insisted on giving my mom the Ancef, and 2 days later she indeed had explosive C. Diff diarrhea, which took many doses of latex-free acidophilus, yogurt and Flagyl (which is a carcinogen with terrible side effects including furry tongue). So if the Know-it-All nurse practitioner felt satisfied that she got what she wanted as far as the pre-op antibiotic, she caused a frail, 86-year-old woman who uses a walker to get around, to have urgent, explosive diarrhea, which considering her limited ambulatory condition, did not always make it to the bathroom, so this contagious diarrhea was not limited to the toilet, but now in clothing, floors, sinks and handled by several people needed to assist this proud, embarrassed elderly woman. This could have been prevented by just listening to the patient and family. (Just as an aside, after she was given this antibiotic that was not latex-free, she also had chills for 4 days, which she gets when she is having pre-anaphylaxis symptoms (and needed antihistamines) for what could have potentially led to anaphylaxis due to latex contamination.) Of note, an interesting thing that my mom’s doctor, who put the pacemaker in, told everyone that day in a high and mighty attitude that my mom only had one true allergy, and that was to Vancomycin! This kind of doctor is a very scary one who, number one is not an allergist, and number two was the doctor that put my mom’s very first pacemaker in that ended up with an infection that caused sepsis and almost her death. He may have been good at putting the pacemaker in but we would not use him for any other medical care. This made my mother want to explode but she kept her cool. He also indignantly said she was not allergic to latex either. He was fiercely incorrect, but this is a common attitude with doctors and nurses in the hospital and office setting. Once again, it is very dangerous not to listen to the patient and their family. They know their history the best.

Now for that pacemaker… I called the Cardiac Cath Lab of the hospital and asked what brands of pacemaker generators they put in. I planned on calling all of the companies. I knew that probably one brand would be used, but sometimes things happen and a switch of brands may be needed at the last minute, so to be safe, I wanted to know all of the brands they carried so I could be sure. They told me they don’t know what brands the cardiologist is contracted to use. Then, they told me they didn’t stock the cart so they did not know what brands they carried. Really? You work in the Cath Lab unit; you grab things off the cart a couple times a day because this is what you do for a living and you mean to tell me you had no idea what brands were on the cart? Scary to think someone working in that unit didn’t know this. Aren’t people in healthcare supposed to be helpful, caring and wanting the best results for their patients? Anyway, I called the cardiologists office to find out if they knew. They said this doctor only used 2 brands and that is all the hospital carried. Why was the person in the Cath Lab so obstructive? This was a simple, no brainer answer from the office of the cardiologist. So, on I went for my next task of finding out if the components were latex free and if any part of the pacemaker generator might be touched by latex gloves in the processing and packaging thus contaminating the unit. It takes a long time to find out information from any factory. It turns out that these companies have changed in the last 10 years, bought out each other, changed names and no longer carried the St. Jude pacemaker my mom had. So, the office said they would use a Boston Medical or Medtronic. Somehow in the conversation with the Boston Medical customer service representative, I found out that St. Jude was bought out by Abbott. Now the office didn’t say anything about Abbott but I thought I would check them out too in case the connectors didn’t work with my mom’s wires. Stranger things have been known to happen. Well, the Medtronic company could not guarantee their pacer was latex free because they buy components for the pacer from other companies and they don’t know if they would be contaminated by these companies so this pacemaker was on my “danger” list. A few days later, Abbott came through to say they were latex-free for years, only used nitrile and no latex gloves whatsoever. Lastly, but with 100% guarantee, Boston Medical came through with an email, in writing that they have been latex free for years and never use latex gloves in the production or packaging of their pacemakers! Yea! Boston Medical was the actual pacemaker generator/battery unit implanted in my mom. One week later the site is healing, there is no reaction and it was worth every minute of time it took to be sure it was latex free. This investigation process created anxiety in my mom and ourselves considering all the false and obstructed information we got from the people actually working with the products.

Even if this article is helpful to you as far as finding a latex-free pacemaker, you should call the company yourself, tell them you need to contact the production manager, who is the only person who knows for sure because they are in the actual factory, on the floor of the manufacturing process and they know exactly how the pacemaker or whatever you are investigating is handled. The production manager is the person to ask for in every case, whether it is for a pacemaker, medication, food, clothing, shoes, musical instruments, sports equipment, or electronic devices like phones, computers, cameras or tablets. It is better to ask for an email or letter because then you have it in writing because the answer is likely to be the truth rather than lip service from the “yes men.”

The other thing is if you find out the information one year, if another item is needed, call again because the factories often change their practices.

I guess this may seem kind of paranoid but you must check everything. You have to play detective if you have anaphylaxis, after the fact. Prevention is everything. There are enough variables without taking care of the main components. I would like to share a short example of why you must talk to the production manager in every case.

My friend went into the hospital for a short procedure, when someone would normally be discharged in 4 hours after this normal, uncomplicated procedure. It involved putting in a Foley catheter. The box said the catheter was latex-free. After it was inserted, she began having respiratory distress, her airway swelled, she could not be intubated through the mouth because of the swelling and ended up with a tracheostomy in her neck, which also caused her to be on a ventilator and hospitalized for over a week after nearly dying. The doctor called the catheter company only to find out that the kits with the catheter in were assembled by workers wearing latex gloves. So, the catheter while it may have been carefully made latex free was contaminated with latex from the gloves when the kit was assembled. Sterilization does not destroy the latex protein.

So, you have to check into EVERYTHING used during your procedure AND hospitalization. Leave no rock unturned. It is your life we are talking about! If someone caring for you is casual about it, beware and take matters into your own hands. You need to make sure to investigate everything you will come in contact with in order to survive.

I just want to mention something else that was involved in my mom’s pacemaker. She was prescribed a body wash that she needed to use over her entire body for 5 days prior to the pacemaker. The box said it was a carcinogen. For someone who has had multiple skin cancers removed, this is not a safe thing to use. She was told it was for only 5 days and she had to use it to prevent infection. So, she used it but then the day of the procedure and at follow up doctor visits she mentioned it. She was told by nurses and doctors alike that it was probably just a California thing and that she would not get cancer from it. Holy cow, such experts again. I can pretty much bet that research showed the body wash caused cancer or they would not be required to put this on the box. I guess by using such a risky soap, they are guaranteeing their future repeat hospital business….

For future reference, if you are allergic to latex and having cataract surgery, knee replacements, dental implants or anything implanted or used on your body you need to call the company and get information from the production manager about possible latex contamination so your body doesn’t go into anaphylaxis or reject the item being put into your body. Don’t be afraid to change the date of the surgery if you are not sure. It is a matter of life and death.