Two Penn Health System Heart Patients, Both Infected With a Life-Threatening Bacteria During Their Open-Heart Surgeries, Go to Court for Answers And Justice


Philadelphia, PA (January 26, 2017) – A New Jersey school board member, and a Pennsylvania electrical engineer, had little in common before they each underwent open-heart surgery at the Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania. However, now Marisa Karamanoogian and Robert Gerngross are linked by the fact, according to their separate but related court filings, they both contracted a well known, potentially lethal bacterial infection during their operations.

Ms. Karamanoogian, 39, a member of the Delanco, NJ, School Board, and Robert Gerngross, 60, an Erdenheim, PA electrical engineer-contractor, are represented by trial attorneys from Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C. (SMB), in their search for answers and justice after suffering serious, life-altering injuries resulting from the infection identified several years ago by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control ( as Nontuberculous Mycobacterium (NTM).

Michael F. Barrett, of SMB, said his firm recently began the civil litigation process on January 13th in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas by filing on behalf of the plaintiffs writs of summons and pre-trial discovery motions that initially names as defendants the health system and the clinical practices of Penn Medicine. “We are asking the Court to help us, on behalf of our clients, fully determine exactly who was involved, their level of knowledge, what equipment they were using, and precisely how they could have exposed the patients to an infection that has now been traced to the deaths of at least six other open-heart surgical patients under what appear to be similar if not identical circumstances.”

He added, “Our clients want and need to know why they were never told they were at risk, and they’re also concerned that what happened to them can still happen to others.” Mary T. Gidaro, Esq., of SMB, is Mr. Barrett’s co-counsel in both cases.

Government officials estimate more than 600,000 patients nationally may have been exposed to the infection strongly believed to be associated with the heater-cooler units used during surgery to control the temperature of the blood and organs.

SMB provided additional information regarding its two clients and the ongoing impacts of the infection:

  • Ms. Karamanoogian, married and the mother of three (ages 10, 15, 17), underwent cardiac bypass surgery at HUP on February 5, 2016, and was diagnosed with NTM about six weeks later, after complaining of severe pain and fatigue. Several surgeries followed to try to eradicate the infection, and she remains on a variety of IV-administered antibiotics. A human resources administrator for an area business, her permanent physical injuries include partial hearing loss, and she also suffers from anxiety and depression associated with the condition.
  • Mr. Gerngross, on February 6, 2015, had aorta heart valve replacement surgery at Penn’s Presbyterian Medical Center. The new mechanical valve replaced a defective aorta valve he had from birth. Fifteen months later he became symptomatic for NTM and was placed on IV antibiotics, and then in December had replacement heart valve surgery. The removed mechanical valve tested positive for NTM, but the father of three (ages 31, 30, 7) is still lethargic and often short of breath, and unable to resume work.

In the filed notices for pre-trial discovery, the attorneys are asking the court to permit them to move forward with a series of vital questions to the health system to pinpoint, for example, the type and manufacturer of the heater-cooler units that were used and their operating and maintenance history.

Ms. Karamanoogian stated, “I live with the physical and emotional scars from my surgery every minute of every day; at work, at home, and in my public service role. I’m thankful to be alive and to what we can do to help prevent other surgical patients from contracting NTM.”

Mr. Gerngross added, “You can’t imagine being in worst shape after heart surgery than when you went into the hospital. But that’s what happened in my case and I can’t stand knowing that the hospital knew but never told me there was a chance I could get NTM. We must find out how this could have possibly happened so it doesn’t happen again.”

Note: The cases are filed as: Karamanoogian: CCP PhilaCo., January Term 2017, No. 01912; and Gerngross: CCP PhilaCo., January Term 2017, No. 01914.

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