Medtronic Inc. has had to go back to an old-reliable in the wake of last month’s Sprint Fidelis Defibrillator Lead recall. In order to continue to meet the demand for defibrillator lead wires, Medtronic has begun supplying health care providers with the Sprint Fidelis’ predecessor, the Sprint Quattro. The Sprint Quattro Defibrillator Lead is a thicker wire than the recalled Sprint Fidelis, and for some time before the recall, it was becoming apparent that the older Sprint Quattro model was safer than new Medtronic lead.

Medtronic suspended sales of the Sprint Fidelis Leads in October, after receiving reports of 5 fatalities linked to lead fractures. A lead is a wire that connects an implantable defibrillator to the heart. When it breaks, the defibrillator can emit a massive and painful shock. And in the worse case scenario, the fractured lead can prevent a defibrillator from sending a necessary, lifesaving shock to the heart.

The Sprint Fidelis Lead was designed to replace Medtronic’s Sprint Quattro models, and it was one of the thinnest defibrillator lead wires on the market. Prior to the recall, Sprint Fidelis Leads had been implanted with 90% of Medtronic’s defibrillators since being introduced in 2004. According to the Wall Street Journal, 268,000 defective Sprint Fidelis Leads have been implanted worldwide, and about 235,000 people still have these leads in their chests.

Within a couple of years of the Sprint Fidelis Lead’s introduction, emergency rooms around the country began to see patients injured by the fractured device. The problems were disturbing enough that the Minneapolis Heart Institute decided to conduct a data analysis of Sprint Fidelis Lead fracture reports from hospital databases around the country. The researchers found that the thinner Sprint Fidelis Lead had a higher chance of fracturing than the Sprint Quattro. As a result of those findings, the Minneapolis Heart Institute quit using the Sprint Fidelis Lead, and the study authors informed the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that the defective Sprint Fidelis Lead was “significantly less reliable” than its predecessor.

While Medtronic did write a letter to doctors in March 2007 warning them of the Sprint Fidelis lead’s possible problems, the company maintained that the fractures were partly the result of the components not being properly implanted.

But even as it sent out that letter, Medtronic was gathering evidence that the Sprint Fidelis Lead was more prone to fracturing than the Sprint Quattro. According to the Wall Street Journal, data collected by Medtronic revealed that from late 2004 through February 2007, there had been more than 200 fractures reported for Sprint Fidelis Leads. That was compared to 64 for Medtronic’s Sprint Quattro Leads.

Then, sometime between August and September of this year, Medtronic said it learned of 5 deaths linked to Sprint Fidelis Lead fractures. And by October, the Medtronic analysis had revealed that the defective Sprint Fidelis Leads had a 2.3% fracture rate within 30 months of implantation. Those grim statistics where finally enough to persuade Medtronic to recall the defective Sprint Fidelis Defibrillator Lead.

The Sprint Fidelis Defibrillator Lead recall sent Medtronic scrambling to get more Sprint Quattro models onto the market. Despite that, the company says it won’t have any trouble meeting the demand for Sprint Quattro Leads. In light of the recall, it looks as though there was never any need for Medtronic to replace the more reliable Sprint Quattro Defibrillator Leads.


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