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Medica to replace heart valve testers

Heart valves are bein replaced following the death of a patient during surgery last month (picture: Sulzer Medica)

A subsidiary of Sulzer Medica is to replace heart valve testers in some 50 countries following the death of a patient during surgery in Britain.

The announcement comes a month after a patient died when one of the heart valve testers broke during surgery at a hospital in Sheffield, England.

Medica initially denied responsibility for the tester, saying it was manufactured by another company.

But the firm later acknowledged it was responsible for the product because the tester is distributed to hospitals by its subsidiary, Sulzer Carbomedics, and was made specifically for use with Carbomedics' bileaflet heart valve.

Although an investigation has not yet determined the cause of the patient's death, the heart valve tester was pulled from the British market last Friday. Carbomedics said it had decided to extend the replacement of the testers to some 50 countries in anticipation of action by health authorities.

US ruling over implants

The incident comes as Medica is on verge of settling a billion-dollar class action lawsuit in the United States over implants of faulty hip and knee joints.

Medica said on Thursday it had been granted final approval for a $1 billion (SFr1.61 billion) settlement to patients who had been given the faulty implants.

Patients have until next Wednesday to opt out of the settlement. Those who choose to accept it will not be able to pursue further claims against Medica.

A Medica spokesman said the company was pleased with the outcome of the hearing and was "confident that the opt out number will remain at a minimal rate".

Under the proposed deal, signed by all parties in the dispute, the total payment for Sulzer Medica would be $725 million, made up of $425 million in cash and $300 million in financial instruments (Callable Convertible Instruments).

Sulzer Medica's former parent company, Sulzer, has agreed to pay $50 million in cash, plus 480,000 Sulzer Medica shares, while the Winterthur Insurance Company is set to pay a figure of $230 million.

Out of the woods?

However, Sulzer Medica is not yet out the woods. The settlement will depend on how many claimants decide to opt out of the proposed deal.

"If the opt-out rate [of claimants] is reasonable and we can afford the settlement, we'll definitely enter into it," Sulzer Medica CEO Stephan Rietiker told swissinfo last month.

"If the rate is too high, we will have to file for Chapter 11 (protection from creditors) and actually put the settlement as a pre-package deal into the Chapter 11 process in front of the bankruptcy judge," he added.

Sulzer Medica reported a loss of SFr1.19 billion ($0.71 billion) in 2001, mainly because of the litigation in the US.

However the company said the first quarter figures were "substantially above" those for the first quarter in 2001.

swissinfo with agencies


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