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Family sues Park Ridge hospital in 'superbug' death

The family of an 82-year-old Mount Prospect woman who died after being infected with a deadly “superbug” during a 2013 outbreak at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital is suing the Park Ridge hospital for wrongful death.

Renate Winkler’s adult children also named Pentax Medical, which manufactured medical scopes linked to the outbreak, in their lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Cook County circuit court.

The suit says the hospital spread the infection of the bacteria known as CRE, which is resistant even to so-called “last-defense” antibiotics, by “failing to properly clean and sterilize its duodenoscopes.”

And it accuses Pentax of using a defective design in the devices that made them extremely difficult to sterilize. That echoes the findings of an investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to outbreaks of CRE at Lutheran General and elsewhere around the country.

“No other families should have to go through what we did with the tragic death of our mother from CRE, said Ronald Winkler, Winkler’s son. “If proper safety measures had been taken by the hospital and Pentax, the infection and her death would have been prevented.”

The northwest suburban woman died Dec. 3, 2013, after being infected with CRE — carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae — during five endoscopic procedures she underwent at Lutheran General in which a duodenoscope was used, according to the lawsuit.

A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment. Pentax didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The family of Ilene Weinberg filed a similar lawsuit against the hospital and Pentax in May, saying she became “extremely ill” and died July 6, 2014 — more than a year after contracting CRE at Lutheran General.

Another woman, Donna Pirolli, sued the hospital last year claiming she was infected with the superbug during a procedure she had at Lutheran General on June 25, 2013.

The device is inserted through the mouth into the stomach and small intestine. It’s used nationwide on half a million patients a year to get a better look at and treat gallstones, cancers and other disorders of the digestive system.

In January 2014, the CDC said it had confirmed 38 cases of CRE involving patients who had endoscopic procedures of the pancreas or bile ducts at Lutheran General between January and September 2013 — among 44 cases found in northeast Illinois in the biggest outbreak of the bacteria since it was first reported in 2009.

CRE is found mainly in people who have been in hospitals and nursing homes. It typically causes a urinary tract infection, but if that spreads to the bloodstream, the CDC says, the mortality rate is about 40 percent.

After the outbreak, Lutheran General changed the way it sterilizes the instruments, following manual cleaning by using a toxic gas, requiring special facilities and equipment, to ensure no bacteria survive. It’s had no new CRE cases since October 2013, a spokeswoman said earlier this year.