Can an insulin pump kill you?

DeathFor me, and insulin pump is the best thing that could happen to me since becoming a diabetic. It has allowed be a level of flexibility and control that has never been possible before. With the pump I’ve been able to get as normal a life as a type 1 diabetic can have and I’ve been able to achieve nearly normal glucose levels with a fraction of the effort that it would take otherwise.

I wear a Medtronic Paradigm 522, and trust it with my life. Is exactly for that reason that recent news published in the canadian newspaper The Windsor Star where someone got killed by their pump.

Steven Krueger used an insulin pump for four years after nine years of daily injections, and according to his parents “it allowed him to accomplish things he otherwise would not have been able to do as a diabetic. He received his scuba diving certificate, completed the Red Cross Lifeguard Program and earned his recreational pilot’s licence.

Steven’s pump failed by giving him a lethal dose of insulin and he died in his sleep three years ago at the age of 27, while living in British Columbia. The cause of death was confirmed by the B.C. coroner’s office. Dr. Phillip Neufeld at the Health Canada lab in Ottawa tested the pump and confirmed the failure and cited some additional interesting facts regarding the Medtronic Minimed Paradigm infusion pump, model MMT-511 that Steven used.”

Other deaths by lethal insulin doses have been recorded in the past, but the pumps have never been tested and therefore, a solid link can not be established. I must admit, however, that the thought of my pump having the potential of killing me makes me nervous.

I can only hope that Medtronics newer pumps have corrected any potential issues…

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19 Responses to Can an insulin pump kill you?

  1. FatCatAnna says:

    You’re not kidding about being nervous of your pump overdosing on you. Maybe it’s time for me to consider getting a CGMS again – or would that be reliable if your pump is going haywire and bolusing like a rabbit into you???

  2. Angela says:

    Was he depressed? He could have given himself the extra insulin. Or if he was drinking he could have taken too much by mistake. It is possible there were other reasons.

    • Mars says:

      In response to Angela; I can assure you that Steven was not depressed by any means and he definitely was not drinking. The pump dispensed the entire vial of insulin at once during his sleep.

  3. Sooz says:

    Angela,
    <>

    It was definitely a pump failure.

    Scary, isn’t it?

    Yet another reason that CGMS should be more widely available, AND be paid for by insurance.

    I suspect CGMS would be effective, even if a huge bolus were given… there’s a limit to how much insulin you can absorb at any one time.

    Still scary. It would be interesting to know exactly what the fault was, especially if Health Canada could confirm the fault

  4. FatCatAnna says:

    My father is saying I should chuck my pump into the bin – but I’m telling him that this is a freak incidence. Like you say Sooz – would be very interesting to know what the fault was.

    The thing tho’ with the CGMS tho’ – if it’s hooked up to tell you what’s happening with your BG via your pump like it was for Steven – then if the pump is having tech glitches – maybe the pump wouldn’t alarm to tell you that you are sinking fast. This is why I say – so many questions arise here.

    Now, if you wear a separate CGMS that is not connected to your pump – then I see no problems. The MM Paradigm I think is the only pump on the market right now that is an all in one with the CGMS. I know I use an Animas 2020 – and in order to have a CGMS (e.g. Navigator) – it’s separate.

    • Sooz says:

      Hi FatCatAnna,

      Good point. In Australia the only CGMSs you can get at this time are the Metronic ones – both the closed loop and the separate one.

      I have an Animas 2020, and much as it might involve a little more work, at this point I’d probably want a separate system.

      I’m told that Navigator and Dexcom will become available here soon. The Dexcom will probably be released later than the Navigator. Probably not before the end of the first quarter of 2010.

      Pumps models have moved on since that happened to Steven, and one hopes that issues like this have been addressed. I wouldn’t swap my pump back to MDI any reason, even with any risk of malfunction.

      If you look at it in perspective, I probably have a better chance of having an accident on the roads.

      Whatever publicity this has received, I still think the risk in using a pump is minimal, especially compared to the benefits.

      For anyone, if it makes them be too anxious having a pump while sleeping then that probably has to be weighed against whether the anxiety is debilitating enough to go back to MDI.

      I am sure that in several months, we won’t be thinking about this incident as we are now.

  5. FatCatAnna says:

    Mars – just curious – do you know more about Steve’s story then what I have read with what you are saying above? I thought perhaps you know his Mum and Dad – condolences to them – many years later. Sigh.
    I know I am like you Mars – feeling that it was the fault of the programming of the pump malfunctioning. I didn’t realise that the WHOLE cartridge of insulin had gone into him. It makes me shake my head in disbelief to think of this happening without any kind of warning sign!!!

  6. Mars says:

    Yes, I knew Steven for 6 years. After talking to his parents I will give you the small synopsis of the story. Steven suffocated during a seizure due to low sugar level in his sleep. As a diabetic myself- one of the biggest fears I have is dying due to a low sugar level as well. His parents asked the coroner in BC to examine the pump. The coroners’ office sent the pump to Health Canada to be examined. Upon examination Health Canada results have shown that the pump dispensed a lethal dose of insulin in this sleep. Medtronics has been asked to examine the pump to find the malfunction from the family and coroners office as well as Health Canada had recommended that . The pump was sent to Medtronincs however Medtronics does not feel this is important and has sent the pump back without any further testing.

  7. FatCatAnna says:

    OMG – I am so so sorry to hear the news that you were friends of Steve and his family. I am pretty well in shock here (just told my husband to piss off – as I’m in the depth of writing out my emotions here to you – I know – not nice – but he knows how this story has effected me and others). I cannot BELIEVE that Medtronic would simply shrug this off – and not pursue investigations further. It actually makes me glad that I did not purchase their pump when I was “test driving” it back when I first decided to venture away from MDI (multiple doseage injections). I did have hesitations about being on a pump because of possible problems.

    Like you Mars – having a hypo – to the point that it causes death – is my worst nightmare. I’m sure others out there feel the same.

    Many thanks for what you have written above. I hope you do not mind – but I posted what you have written here – in the Diabetes1 forum area – as I think people have the right to know – and perhaps in doing so – they might question Medtronic as to why they are not investigating it further. I certainly know that I will be contacting them!!!

  8. Mars says:

    Thanks for your support. I know the family appreciates it as well. It is important to get the information out so people are able to make the right choice with ALL the information. I have been thinking of whether to get a pump or not myself and this choice has been extremely difficult to make for me and my husband. Where is this Diabetes1 forum website? I would like to check it out.

  9. FatCatAnna says:

    Mars – you should be able to get to the Diabetes1 forum website by clicking on my name above – it will take you to the forums area at Diabetes1.org or if this doesn’t work for you – just type in ” http://www.diabetes1.org/forum/ ” . Can you tell them I’m not a techy person ? I am learning with time how useful the Internet can be tho’.
    BTW, I have already been in contact with Steven’s parents – to try to help them as much as I can.
    I understand your difficulty in making the right decision – of whether to go on the pump. It was the same for myself – as I had been injecting 42 years prior to going on a machine like this. The thing that made me chose the pump I had – is when I test drove the Medtronic 522 model – I did not like how easily I could “goof up” with making an incorrect bolus shot. I would have gotten used to it if given the chance to test it out longer (only given 3 months). I then had the opportunity to use another pump – the Animas 2020 – which I felt more safe to uses. It doesn’t allow you to bolus without a few steps – you cannot make a mistake. Also, to stop any bolus that maybe going thru’ you incase you input incorrectly (you are always the brains behind the pump – you set up the programming for it) – you can touch any key on the pump – in order to halt the deliveyr of the pump. I found with the Medtronic pump – it was difficult – maybe they have improved it since – maybe there is someone who will come forth here and fill us in. I just know I felt more comfortable with the Animas 2020 – had the smallest increment of insulin available on the market at the time – as this pump is made for children (I am one at heart ) – and also I found Customer Service to be easier to get hold of when I needed help – as well as being abit more friendly then Medtronic. Again, everyone has different experiences with their pump manufacturer – maybe in my case with Medtronic – I just got a person on a bad day when I called.
    Keep on doing your research – ask questions – but you will not be sorry if you do go on a pump – I no longer feel like a diabetic (never really did before – it’s part of me having had it so long – sort of like my Siamese twin I guess).

  10. Mars says:

    Thanks for the information. I was diagnosed in 2003 and I was devastated at first in how it has changed my life. I have had two children and it has been difficult to get back on track after the second. I have been interested in a pump but I don’t want Medtronics and they definitely have the market where I live. I know that Steven’s parents truly appreciate all the support that this blog has given them. It has been a difficult journey.

  11. Justin says:

    ive been a type one diabetic since i was 7. nearly 15 years now. ive been through 3 different pumps, and def. feel where you’re coming from being scared. ive had one malfunction and NOT deliver enough, but never the opposite. im currently on the OmniPod system. its a wireless, tubeless pump attached and controlled by a pda looking thing about the size and look of a cell phone. the only drawback is it only holds maybe 200 units, so changing it ever 3 to 4 days is a pain. its the best thing thats ever happened to me. i have so much freedom away from injections and old pump tubes.

    • FatCatAnna says:

      Justin – just curious about the Omnipod. With my pump, if I go thru’ 200 units of insulin in one day (some people have insulin resistance and go thru’ even more) – can you do what I do – where all I have to do is refill my insulin cartridge and still keep using the same infusion set that’s in my body (I change every 3 days religiously after being told not to leave it in longer due to scarring – used to leave it in up to 5 days). I don’t know if with the Omnipod – if you would have to take off to whole unit/infusion set from your body – and put in a whole new pod.
      Not sure if you are aware, but there is a new tubeless pump coming into the American market next year (SoloMicropump – it detaches from the infusion base). Unfortunately like many nonAmericans – Canada and probably Australia don’t have Omnipod yet. Guess due to our smaller population / government medical testing – it just takes longer to come into our countries.
      Anyway, I’ve got links, etc. to help explain it if you click below – http://www.diabetes1.org/forum/Insulin_Pump_Users/SoloMicropump_Omnipod_has_competition#63830

  12. mars says:

    So folks- I have decided to get a pump three years after Steven died- yes people – due to malfunction of the pump and I hate to tell you he is not the only one to have this happen. So anyone have other suggestions- I have heard to two pumps. If you have a medtronics pump- Sorry – I am not interested. Preferably with a company I am not afraid of and who respects individuals.

    • La says:

      Mars, you have heard of other malfunctions of the pump. Can you direct me to information and any followup on which pumps and what type of malfunction?

  13. Melissa says:

    I just wanted to give my condolences for steven and his family. for myself I have had type 1 diabetes for 17 yrs and my pump has saved my life. my a1c before was between 8-9 and now 3 months after getting my p ump and being pregnant my a1c is now 5.2 wich is amazing. I do have the medtronic mini med and now after reading this I am concerned. especially being a mom and expecting my second I dont want any chances. but I do believe my pump has saved my life.

  14. DMB says:

    Steve’s story is so sad. I just got my first pump a few weeks ago…a Medtronics Paragigm. So far I hate it. My blood sugar control is worse than when I was taking multiple injections. I can go from 400 – 35 in a short time. Sure does make you feel lousy. My doctor wants to blame it on incorrect carb counting, scar tissue…anything but pump malfunction. (I also understand Medtronics recently had a recall of infusion sets.) Now that I’ve read about Steve,I am deathly afraid of my pump and will probably go back to injections.

  15. Chris says:

    These things are unfortunate, but I believe they can happen! I was in the emergency room yesterday for what I fear may’ve been a similar failure of my OmniPod. I don’t know that I have conclusive proof, but a pod that I had put on only an hour earlier, presumedly with the 150 units I normally put in a new pod, was empty when I later looked at it, and my wife had turned it off and removed it only about 2 hours after I put it on. Which means, if you assume what is eviudent but unproven, that it put that all into me. The fact that I couldn’t keep myself above 35 mg/dl for many hours, had EMTs come to the house twice, and eventually taking me to the ER, having eaten dozens of grams of carbs since the pod was removed, and still being unable to keep my BG up, just a crazy crazy thing.

    Had not my wife been with me, I may not’ve survived it either. Again, I cannot state with 100% certainly that the pod “quietly” (ie, without alarming) tried to kill me, but the evidence does suggest it. A bit scary.

    Am I going to go back on the pod? Yup. Plan to. I’ve used more than 100 of them over the last year, and they’re not perfect. But the odds of this happening again are atrociously low. I certainly will be in contact with OmniPod, and I hope they can find something that went wrong so they can install more alarms for whatever happened.

    (FWIW, I’m *not* wearing a pod now, just from being freaked out by this happening, only 30-some hours ago. But, I currently do expect to go back to them within a few hours or days.)

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