Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thousands Fear Artificial Hips Are Poisoning Them

by Joe Shortsleeve

BOSTON (CBS) – Artificial hips are supposed to relieve pain, but now thousands of patients are afraid their hips are poisoning them.

One popular hip has been recalled, and there are a growing number of lawsuits.

At just 36, Katie Ayers was prompted by chronic pain to get an artificial hip. “It was supposed to be the latest and greatest. It was supposed to be perfect for a younger female,” she said.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports

Three years later, Katie was shocked when her artificial metal on metal hip was recalled. Tiny pieces of metal were breaking away from the mechanism due to wear and tear.

Katie says tests showed elevated levels of cobalt and chromium in her blood. “They don’t really know, they being the medical community, what those elevated levels can do to your system,” she said.

Katie is one of an estimated 500,000 people who have received an all metal hip replacement. Data shows Katie’s hip, the DePuy ASR failed in nearly one third of patients in Britain within six years.

The device was recalled by the company last year. Katie has since gotten a new one.

“I thought I was going to have 15-20 years before I had to it again,” she said.

More than 2,600 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson and Johnson, the parent company of DePuy. It’s estimated 20 new cases are being filed every day.

Boston attorney Marnie McGoldrick represents about two dozen clients who have had problems with the DePuy ASR. “With most patients, it may start with clicking or popping, or just pain, and then it leads to immobility,” she explained.

McGoldrick believes the grinding of metal on metal can cause metal fragments to go in the blood stream and tissue surrounding the hip area. “That can cause inflammation, and tissue damage which can lead to loosening, dislocation, and possibly bone fractures,” she added.

DePuy dismisses the findings in the British study, saying it is based on a small number of cases. They add they are helping patients who now require additional treatment.

Dr. David Mattingly of the New England Baptist Hospital performs hundreds of hip replacements each year. He has implanted the DePuy ASR in ten patients with no reported problems.

Metal on metal hips became popular in recent years, according to Dr. Mattingly, because younger, more physically active patients wanted something sturdier than traditional metal and plastic joints.

Dr. Mattingly still uses metal on metal hips in select patients. He believes if the operation is done well and the patient follows post-operative orders that this can still be an effective choice.

But the Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing all metal on metal hip joints, ordering manufacturers to research if patients are getting sick.

Katie’s implant was allowed through the FDA’s 510K process, which fast tracks devices if they are substantially equivalent to existing products. “I think there has to be a better way than what’s already out there.”

Katie’s blood levels have returned to normal. She worries, like thousands of other patients, about any long term implications.

The legal cases are still in the discovery process so it hasn’t been determined if there will be a class action suit.

Patients with the DePuy ASR can contact the company at 1-888-627-2677, or visit their website.

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