‘If Philips had done something, my husband would still be here’ – Widow claims spouse, 51, died from rare throat cancer linked to sleep apnea machine he bought to stop snoring

Photo of author
Written By Rivera Claudia

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

Rodney Thomas was just 51 years old when he died from aggressive nasopharyngeal cancer, a rare type of head and neck cancer, after using a Philips sleep apnea machine. 

His family was confused by his diagnosis at the time- Mr Thomas was not a smoker or heavy drinker and was in perfect health aside from being diagnosed with the sleeping disorder. 

To treat it, Mr Thomas had started using a Philips continuous positive airway pressure – CPAP – machine, which would later be found to expel carcinogenic materials into users airways, according to claims in lawsuits filed against the company.  

His wife, Shawne Thomas, – just one of many people suing the medtech manufacturer – is claiming its machine led to her husband’s cancer and eventual death. 

She told DailyMail.com: ‘My husband didn’t need to die. This was totally unnecessary. We’ve lost our world.’ 

Ms Thomas, from Louisiana, told this website Rodney began using his sleep apnea machine in 2019 and the couple would repeatedly see black specks in the tubing and mask but thought nothing of it at the time.

It would later be claimed in class-action lawsuits those specks were actually carcinogenic materials degrading inside the machine and blowing into Rodney’s airways. 

Rodney Thomas was just 51 years old when he died from cancer in 2021 after using a Philips sleep apnea machine for several years

Rodney and his wife Shawne were married for 32 years and had three children together

Rodney and his wife Shawne were married for 32 years and had three children together

Rodney Thomas' wife Shawne said the couple would repeatedly see black specks in the tubing and masks of Rodney's sleep apnea machine

Rodney Thomas’ wife Shawne said the couple would repeatedly see black specks in the tubing and masks of Rodney’s sleep apnea machine

About a year into using the device, Rodney developed a very ‘aggressive cough’ and became increasingly fatigued, unable to keep up with day-to-day activities. 

After noticing a large lump had developed in Rodney’s throat, Ms Thomas encouraged him to go to the doctor, who initially believed Rodney had an infection and treated him with antibiotics. 

When weeks went by without any improvement, Rodney underwent diagnostic imaging, which revealed a tumor. In January 2021, he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. 

He died just five months later – several days shy of Philips issuing a recall of its machines. 

It wasn’t until after her husband’s death that Ms Thomas learned of the recall when she saw a commercial on Youtube announcing it. 

She immediately checked the serial number on his machine and discovered it was included in the recall of millions of CPAP machines. 

Ms Thomas told DailyMail.com: ‘[I was] just traumatized. We were in so much shock and then it went from shock to anger. 

‘This was totally unnecessary.’ 

The manufacturing giant first received complaints of faulty machines in 2010 after they redesigned its devices. However, Philips did not disclose the complaints, even as the number grew from a few to dozens, an investigation by ProPublica found. 

Users wrote into the company about ‘black shavings’ in the chamber of the CPAP machine and reports the machines were ‘contaminated with unknown sticky substance.’ 

Now, nearly 600 people who used the now-recalled CPAP machines have died in the last three years of illnesses linked to foam and potentially toxic gases that blow into users’ airways while they wear the device, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

After finding out about the recall, Ms Thomas said she ‘was beyond furious.’

She quickly obtained a lawyer, and told this website she has filed a lawsuit against the medtech manufacturer. As part of the lawsuit, she said her lawyer sent Rodney’s machine to a facility in Pennsylvania to be tested.

The testing found the presence of a carcinogenic substance known to cause the type of cancer Rodney had, the lawsuit claims.  

A CPAP - or continuous positive airway pressure - machine corrects sleep apnea, in which sufferers stop and start breathing while they sleep, which can cause much more serious health problems

A CPAP – or continuous positive airway pressure – machine corrects sleep apnea, in which sufferers stop and start breathing while they sleep, which can cause much more serious health problems 

Indents on President Joe Biden's face prompted the White House to tell journalists that he's started to use a CPAP machine

Indents on President Joe Biden’s face prompted the White House to tell journalists that he’s started to use a CPAP machine 

Rodney is just one of hundreds of people who have died following use of the Philips CPAP machine – and thousands more are worried about their health. 

Joel Pickett, a 79-year-old from Oregon, posted in a Facebook support group for people affected by the Philips CPAP machines that he developed tracheal cancer after years of using a recalled device. 

In the group, there are dozens of comments from people reporting cancer diagnoses, respiratory conditions and infections, deaths of family members they claim are linked to use of the machines and people expressing fear they may develop life-threatening illnesses from years of use.

Another poster said his symptoms of chest pain, muscle aches and rashes all improved after he discontinued use of his CPAP device. 

Kelly Bush Fannerella from Pennsylvania commented that her son was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using the machine. 

In 2021, the Philips sleep apnea machines were found to be blowing gas and foam into users’ airways as they slept, putting them at increased risk of tumors.

The malfunction led to the company recalling more than 5million machines in June 2021, but attempts to repair and replace affected machines have been dragging on for years. 

Most recently, the FDA and the Justice Department have forced Philips to halt all new sales until they address the problem with the old devices.

The manufacturer announced last month it would stop sales of its machines. 

According to the FDA, since initiating a recall of approximately 15million devices in 2021, 561 CPAP users have died as a result of illnesses linked to faulty machines while thousands are battling other severe health conditions. 

The deaths were recorded in 116,000 medical device reports, the FDA’s database for reporting adverse effects. There were 111 deaths recorded from July to September of 2023 alone, out of a total of more than 7,000 medical device reports filed in that narrow period.

White House confirms Biden is using breathing machine to treat sleep disorder

The White House said President Joe Biden, 81, uses a CPAP machine to treat his sleep apnea – after he was spotted with visible indentations on his face. 


Philips Respironics agreed to a partial $479million settlement on Sept. 8, 2023, to compensate people for financial damages related to the recall. 

Approximately 30million Americans have sleep apnea, a condition characterized by pauses in breathing or choking for air during sleep, which, over time, vastly increases one’s risk of heart attack and stroke.

It is estimated that 8million people, including President Joe Biden, rely on a CPAP machine to sleep through the night, and given Philips’ status as a leader in the CPAP devices market, a large share of those eight million devices are likely included in the recall.

The problem stems from the type of foam used in the headgear of the machine that is affixed around the head and connected to a snorkel-like device. It’s meant to dampen sound and vibrations as the machine operates.

But the foam, made with polyester-based polyurethane, has been shown to degrade and break off into tiny particles and release harmful chemical gases such as formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, volatile organic compounds, and solvents – all of which have been linked to different types of cancers and respiratory problems, multiple class-action lawsuits claim.

Brett Stassi, a 62-year-old from Louisiana, battled kidney cancer after using his Philips sleep apnea machine every night for four years.

Terry Flynn of St Louis, Missouri, died of esophageal cancer in 2021 just two weeks after being diagnosed. ProPublica reported he had used his CPAP machine for nine years. 

And 58-year-old Mark Edwards experienced years of recurring respiratory infections and benign tumors  he told ProPublica he believed were caused by the Philips DreamStation ventilator.

‘It really blows my mind,’ Ms Thomas told DailyMail.com.

‘[It’s] completely unnecessary. That’s what really gets me about this whole thing. It didn’t need to happen.’ 

In a statement to DailyMail.com, Philips said: ‘Our thoughts and sympathies are with Mr Thomas’ family. Our first priority is the health and well-being of patients, and we regret the distress and concern that the Philips Respironics recall has caused to affected device users and their loved ones.

‘Importantly for patients and their care providers, 13 independent epidemiological studies show no association between use of Continuous or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) devices, including Philips Respironics PAP devices, and increased risk of cancer in people with obstructive sleep apnea. 

‘Additionally, together with five independent certified testing laboratories and qualified third-party experts, Philips Respironics has been conducting a comprehensive test program on the PE-PUR foam. 

‘Based on independent testing results to date, Philips Respironics has also concluded that the use of its sleep therapy devices is not expected to result in appreciable harm to health in patients.’


Leave a Comment