Last Modified: August 17, 2023
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For lawyer Ava Cavaco, getting her first Philips CPAP machine in 2017 was life-changing. Before doctors diagnosed her with severe sleep apnea, Cavaco would get headaches that spiraled into migraines regularly. She suffered from severe brain fog, extreme fatigue and poor sleep.

At the time, Cavaco blamed it on her stressful schedule and workload as a law student. When she graduated and became a lawyer, she blamed her poor quality of life and health issues on her career.

“But when I got my CPAP machine, my quality of life was just completely flipped. Finally, I could sleep seven or eight hours and I could be present at work and for my family. I got off of my migraine medication immediately,” Cavaco said.

However, in 2021, Philips recalled millions of CPAP, BiPAP and ventilator devices — including Cavaco’s device. The reason for the recall: PE-PUR sound abatement foam in the devices that could degrade, leading to toxic particles and gases that could be inhaled or ingested and cause CPAP side effects such as respiratory problems and cancer.

Philips CPAP Recall ‘Affected My Life in a Big Way’

“The recall affected my life in a big way just because I truly rely on my CPAP machine. I can’t sleep without using it at night,” Cavaco said.

Cavaco is unique because she was affected by the recall, but as an attorney she also represents clients who were impacted. She said she was one of the lucky ones who actually got a Philips CPAP recall letter. The letter was terrifying.

“The Philips recall letter pretty much said, ‘You continue to use this, you could have A, B, C, D or E. And you're like, ‘What the heck?”
Ava Cavaco

“The Philips recall letter pretty much said,’You continue to use this, you could have A, B, C, D or E. And you’re like, ‘What the heck?'” Cavaco said. “I hear this from a lot of my clients, and they’re like, “I had to choose between, literally, possibly dying in my sleep at night by not being able to breathe or keep using this machine that Philips says you should stop using because you could develop health problems.'”

The young lawyer immediately consulted with her pulmonologist. He told her that her sleep apnea was severe and she couldn’t take chances by stopping treatment. Even after an extensive search for a replacement device, like millions of others, Cavaco couldn’t find one.

She had no choice but to keep using a potentially dangerous machine. A machine that she now suspects of causing her severe breathing problems.

‘I Couldn’t Even Walk up a Flight of Stairs’

While Cavaco was getting better sleep, after three years of using her Philips CPAP she started noticing breathing problems. And she knew it wasn’t her asthma.

“I was born with asthma, but it’s very mild, controlled asthma. I know what it feels like,” she said. “I have all the medications, and the only time I would ever actually suffer from asthma was if I was actually sick with something else.

As a child, Cavaco idolized Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a former U.S. Olympic athlete who also had asthma. Joyner-Kersee spread the message that you could live a full, active life with the condition. As an adult, Cavaco embraced that message. She was very aware of her asthma symptoms but didn’t let them stop her from being active and healthy.

For most of her life Cavaco was very fit, running 5Ks at least three times a week and lifting weights. But her breathing problems steadily got worse.

“I was getting to the point where I couldn't even walk up a flight of stairs without needing to stop after one flight. I would hold my chest and try to breathe.”
Ava Cavaco

People would tell her it was her weight, allergies or an asthma flareup. She described the behavior as “gaslighting.”

“And then, a couple years later the CPAP machine I’m using has a recall, and it says that it causes respiratory issues,” she said. “By this point I was still not able to walk up a whole flight of stairs, and I am on an Advair Diskus even now.”

Lawsuit Information
Respiratory problems and multiple types of cancer are among the side effects named in Philips CPAP lawsuits.
View Lawsuits

‘The Philips Recall Validated My Experience’

Cavaco said, in a strange way, she is grateful for the recall because she no longer has to wonder what was causing her breathing problems. Her pulmonologist agrees with her. Cavaco said she is lucky because she has clients whose doctors don’t believe them or who never knew about the recall.

“My doctor has said that all this stuff that I’m experiencing is because of this CPAP machine,” she said. “I’ve been taking pulmonary function tests ever since I was born. I’ve got enough medical records to show that I was absolutely fine even with my mild asthma until now.”

Cavaco now takes Advair every 12 hours to prevent asthma symptoms, and she also needs to take Symbicort and use her emergency inhaler every 12 hours. Every five or six months she has to take prednisone when her emergency inhalers don’t work.

“Because I couldn’t breathe, I stopped working out and I started to gain weight. And then getting prednisone four or five times a year causes weight gain. When I go to my PCP (primary care physician), the nursing student tells me, ‘Have you tried losing weight?’ It’s frustrating,” Cavaco said. “I mean, I would if I could.”

Others Have Suffered Worse Philips CPAP Complications

While the Philips CPAP recall really affected her quality of life, Cavaco knows others who have had worse complications. As a lawyer, she holds leadership positions in the Philips CPAP multidistrict litigation. According to Cavaco, Philips has recalled millions of CPAP machines and at least 50,000 people have signed a registry claiming injuries from these machines.

“A lot of my clients have cancer,” Cavaco said. “We’re talking about blood cancer, lung cancer and other types of cancer. And they’ve been using the machines for a lot longer than I have. A lot of my clients have multiple machines because you’re supposed to get a new one every five years.”

“My clients were not exposed to any noxious fumes. But they have had a CPAP on their face for eight years.”
Ava Cavaco

Cavaco shared that she’s seen a big difference in severity of injuries in clients who have been using CPAP for five years or more. Her CPAP clients with lung cancer have never smoked and neither have their family members. None of them have been exposed to toxic chemicals through their jobs, either.

“My clients were not exposed to any noxious fumes. But they have had a CPAP on their face for eight years,” she said.

She urges others affected by the Philips CPAP recall to take their health seriously.

“Go see your health care provider and sleep specialist right away,” Cavaco said. “You want to find out what is happening to you and get yourself the right treatment. And if you think that it may be caused in part by using a Philips CPAP device, make sure to contact an attorney right away to protect your right to file a claim.”

Disclaimer: Thoughts and opinions expressed in this patient story are strictly anecdotal and should not be taken as medical information or advice. Views of the interviewee do not necessarily reflect those of the author, editor or Drugwatch.