CPAP machine recall leaves many with breathing disorders, other illnesses at risk

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CPAP machine. Credit: WINK News.

Possibly get cancer or die in your sleep—that’s the choice some people with Phillips Respironics CPAP machines are struggling with. A recall is now in effect and getting a new machine is not easy.

A CPAP machine keeps Richard Wheeler alive through the night. He has sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that causes his breathing to start and stop several times a night.
But his machine is a part of recall.

“Right now, it’s the worst of the two evils,” Wheeler said.

In June, Philips Respironics issued a recall for some of its machines after receiving several reports of the foam inside degrading, causing black debris to go into the devices’ airways and then into users’ lungs. The FDA says inhaling it can cause other health conditions like asthma or cancer, but pulmonologist Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad recommends talking to your doctor about benefits versus the risk.

“It’s a life-threatening disease,” Ahmad said. “Every day people are dying from it, so this is really, really an important disease to treat and manage your health status and improve your quality of your sleep.”

Wheeler and his wife Debbie decided he should keep using the machine.

“Now, it’s like this little thing in the back of your head all the time, saying, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’“ Debbie Wheeler said. “I don’t know.”

Michael Cowell, on the other hand, keeps his machine on the table, not on his nightstand; he’s not using it anymore, even though he has Parkinson’s disease, COPD and sleep apnea. The situation, he says, has left him “hopeless and despondent.”

“Some of the symptoms that I can get from the CPAP is carcinogens, particles going into my lungs, which can create many problems,” Cowell said. “More than what I need. I have more than what I can handle now.”

Although their machines have been recalled, both Wheeler and Cowell have struggled to get new ones. Medicare says CPAP suppliers are required by law to take those machines back and replace them at no cost, but there is a shortage on replacement machines.

“I don’t sleep well to begin with, but it’s even worse now and it affects my Parkinson’s,” Cowell said. “I become less able to handle logistic things, which I was very good at doing… daily functions. Talking, walking… the tremors are worse, and just daily living.”

Philips hopes to have all recalled machines fixed by October 2022, but Cowell doesn’t think he’ll live to see that day.

“I stop breathing many times a night with my COPD and sleep apnea,” Cowell said.

“My husband can die from this,” Debbie Wheeler said. “I just want this fixed so he’s safe.”

This recall is for certain BiPaps, CPAPs and ventilators made before April 2021. Philips Respironics says it’s doing its best to contact suppliers in order to get in touch with people who have a recalled machine.

Visit the Philips Respironics website to see if you own a machine affected by the recall and how to request a replacement.

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