Millions of people rely on continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP machines, to sleep better at night. So when there was a huge safety recall of one brand, it raised a lot of questions — some of them still open today.

Liz Moughon is a video journalist at the investigative nonprofit ProPublica and part of the team that covered the story.

The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.

Liz Moughon: This is a story about patients and doctors who are impacted by the Philips Respironics recall of their CPAP machines and respiratory breathing devices. For over 11 years, they withheld complaints from users who reported defects, and they withheld that information from the public.

With Every Breath documentary clip: I had patients who had black particles over the years. We didn’t know what it was.

With Every Breath documentary clip: The DreamStation was one of the most commonly-used positive airway pressure devices in the United States, if not the world. Nearly 100% of our patients were on DreamStation devices at the time of the recall.

Sharyl: What was the heart of the complaints about these CPAP machines?

Moughon: The heart of the complaints were that users were finding black particles, black specks, dust, and contamination in their machines. Even users who washed their machines every day, every other day, they saw these tiny black particles in the tubing of their machines, and they reported them.

Sharyl: The implication is they were breathing that stuff in?

Moughon: Yeah. The implication — so, the foam that was used in the machines is an industrial foam that is also found in sofas and mattresses. And at high heat, the foam can break down into these tiny disintegrated particles that are known to be toxic and potentially carcinogenic. We were looking for a patient who was sick, which is Mark Edwards. And Mark Edwards has preexisting conditions. And a lot of people on sleep apnea have preexisting conditions, and if you have preexisting conditions, you need a CPAP machine even more to be able to heal, to be able to manage that.

With Every Breath documentary clip: Initially I thought that the CPAP machine was kind of like a gimmick, so I just thought, “Come on, what happened to people in the colonial times when they didn’t have a CPAP machine?” And my lung doctor said, “They died.” I was like, well that makes sense.

Moughon: So Mark really shows someone who is sick and is potentially sicker because of this machine.

With Every Breath documentary clip: I had three top specialists tell me that the Royal Philips CPAP machine destroyed the walls of my lungs. So I went to this guy, and he recommended Dr. Candace Hrelec, and she looked down my throat, and she found this huge growth in my throat. She did surgery on me. Once the walls of your lungs are shot, it’s a matter of time.

Sharyl: What was the company’s response did you discover, as part of the co-investigation that you did, when they began to get these complaints from consumers?

Moughon: Philips received over 3,700 complaints over the span of 11 years, and they first launched an investigation in 2019, which was nine years after the first complaint. And their response was that complaints leading up to the recall were few and far between, and that they responded as soon as they understood the potential significance of the problem.

Sharyl: What would you say is the overarching lesson you learned as you found out more about this case?

Moughon: For these patients, I think about how they were not given a right to know sooner the risks of their machines. If they had been told even a few years sooner, we don’t know if the machine could harm you, but we’re letting you make that decision.

Sharyl (on-camera): In a statement, Philips said it does not agree with the characterizations in ProPublica’s reporting, that the company’s priority is patient safety and quality, and that it “regrets any distress and concern for patients, their families, and care providers in this matter, and deeply apologizes.”

Watch video here.

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