Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Military Unit’s Mysterious Injuries
The Marines who fought in a secret U.S. military mission against the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017 returned home with unexpected health issues, according to a New York Times investigation.
That mission involved near-constant bombardment of the enemy with high-explosive shells fired by long-range artillery cannons. Even though they never saw the enemy, soldiers complained of nightmares, panic attacks, depression, and in some cases, severe hallucinations. Some of those soldiers became homeless and a “striking number” died by suicide, according to the report.
The Marine Corps eventually determined that the underlying cause was exposure to repeated cannon blasts, which sent shockwaves through soldiers’ bodies multiple times a day, day after day. A military study of the hardest-hit units concluded the blasts led to traumatic brain injuries.
Despite the findings, the military treated the injuries as routine psychiatric disorders, if they treated them at all, according to the article. The Marine Corps has not commented on the findings of its study or provided any statement on the handling of soldiers’ conditions, according to the Times.
Doctor Resigns, Worrying Rare Disease Families
Families have said that the unexpected departure of a Minnesota doctor known for treating kids with a rare illness will be a major setback for them, according to the Star Tribune.
Bazak Sharon, MD, will leave the University of Minnesota on November 15, resigning over a dispute over the clinical management of head trauma in infants, he told the outlet.
Sharon had been treating kids with neuropsychiatric disorders known as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS) or pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS). There are few doctors in the U.S. who treat these conditions, which can develop after viral infections, and some aren’t sold that it’s a legitimate diagnosis.
Parents say few doctors are interested in treating the condition and “taking on frustrating children, distraught parents, and insurance battles,” according to the article. These kids can experience physical, even violent, tics and aggressive or compulsive behavior.
The University of Minnesota said it will maintain treatment through the end of 2023, but after that, parents will have to take their kids out-of-state or pay out-of-pocket at a local clinic.
Philips Recall: Patient Impact
ProPublica details the stories of patients who say they’ve been harmed by breathing devices that were recalled by Philips Respironics starting in 2021.
One woman says she lost her 51-year-old husband to a rare form of nose and throat cancer after he’d been using the Philips DreamStation, a CPAP machine. A father of four died 2 weeks after he was diagnosed with lung cancer; he’d been using a Philips breathing machine for 9 years. A grandfather who’d used the DreamStation for his sleep apnea had a malignant tumor on his lung removed.
“Though it’s impossible to know what caused individual illnesses, or whether the machines were capable of advancing cancers that may have developed prior to use by patients, some medical experts say they fear long-term harm,” the outlet reported.
Philips initiated the recall in June 2021, acknowledging that an industrial foam used in the machines to reduce noise could break apart and launch tiny particles and fumes into patients’ airways. As many as 15 million devices were produced with the defective material, according to ProPublica, and they have the potential to inflict complications including cancer, kidney and lung problems, and severe respiratory infections.
FDA has also stated that defective foam can cause headaches, asthma, inflammatory conditions, respiratory tract issues and “toxic or cancer-causing effects.”
To date, 370 deaths have been linked to the recalled machines. The story is the latest in a series by ProPublica focusing on the impacts of the recall.