Contact 13 Investigates
Danger in the air: Oxygen machine case before State Board
Danger in the air: Oxygen machine case before State Board Video by ktnv.comvideo
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A woman who's been fighting for her husband's life hasn't won the war yet, but she's won another battle along the way.
It's a story Contact 13 first broke two years ago. Now, Chief Investigator Darcy Spears explains how the woman's fighting spirit sparked action by the state.
"Suppose we just sat there and my husband just withered away?" Rita Perrini asks, rhetorically.
John Perrini very well may owe his life to his wife's suspicion that something was wrong with his oxygen concentrator. He owes a little bit more to her now.
Her statement to the Nevada Board of Pharmacy led to them rejecting their own lawyer's recommendations.
A board investigation into Western Home Care -- the company who supplied John's oxygen concentrator -- resulted in charges of failure to properly service their machines and shoddy record-keeping.
But the board's lawyer cut a deal with Western that would have let them off with a slap on the wrist. They'd admit to sloppy record-keeping, the state would drop the other charges, and Western would face a few thousand dollars in fines and probation.
But after listening to Rita's account of what John went through...
"The bacteria that he inhaled from that filthy filter..."
The board rejected the settlement.
"I'm just trying to tell you what can happen when people do not care and have utter disregard for human life," Rita told the board. "They can see what's happened. I was so relieved that they listened to me."
Rita took board members on her family's devastating medical journey, which began shortly after John was put on oxygen for sleep apnea in 2008.
He became deathly ill and wound up having open heart surgery in May of 2010 to remove a bacterial growth and replace a valve.
His doctor wrote a note saying John's heart problems were "most likely caused by pseudomonas found in the oxygen concentrator."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists pseudomonas as a dangerous and often deadly bacteria associated with health care-acquired infections.
Rita showed board members pictures of John where he appears as a shadow of his former self.
"His day of discharge. That is my husband. He doesn't look too much better today. He can't get around. His memory's gone. And all for a wholesale value of $5 for a filter to go into that concentrator!"
"This filter that my dad used went to six different people over a three year period. It was never serviced, never checked," says Lee Perrini, John and Rita's daughter.
The family has detailed that in their lawsuit against Western. They're suing to recoup more than a million dollars in medical bills.
"The machine was appropriately serviced," said Christine Cassetta. She's the attorney for Western Home Care and the only person who showed up for them at the Pharmacy Board hearing.
"And there is absolutely no medical evidence that's been presented in the civil litigation that there's any link between the filter and the patient's unfortunate illness," Cassetta added.
Lab tests and John's doctors say there's a direct link.
In 2009, Silver State Labs tested John's filter and the machine itself. Results show traces of rust, smut, slime mold and pseudomonas.
"This is the filter that came out of the unit that my husband used," Rita said, raising a photo of a black filter to show Board members.
We showed the same filter to Western's administrator, Heath Hairr, in November of 2009.
Darcy Spears: "Take a look at the filter that came out of that machine. Is that normal?
Heath Hairr: "I see a filter that has done its job properly."
Now, Western will have to convince the Pharmacy Board of that at a full hearing in July.
"I do hope that Western Home Care will have their license revoked," said Lee Perrini. "I don't want to see any other person or family have to go through what our family has gone through. And I don't think anyone is fully aware by using an oxygen concentrator that you think you're getting better by breathing oxygen, it could actually kill you."
John Perrini has been told his health is permanently compromised.
His doctors say if any of the antibodies that are still in his system invade the new heart valve, there's nothing more they can do, and he'll likely die.