DePuy hip implant patient tests positive for heavy metal toxicity, but says she feels fine

Australia’s Blacktown Sun has profiled another patient Down Under who received one of DePuy’s recalled ASR hip implants, but her story doesn’t exactly match the experience of many others whose struggles with the faulty medical devices have grabbed headlines around the world.

The patient, a resident of New South Wales, told the Blacktown Sun that she had her DePuy hip device implanted in 2006, but has not experienced any outward physical reactions or health problems. She found out that her DePuy hip implant was potentially problematic only after her doctor informed her that the device was part of a global recall that had been prompted when data from a U.K joint registry found that an excessive number of the devices had failed within 5 years. Subsequent data from the U.K. and elsewhere have indicated the failure rate for the DePuy devices could be substantially higher.

The patient profiled in the Blacktown Sun is one of about 5,000 Australians (and about 88,000 others worldwide) who had been fitted with one of DePuy’s recalled hip devices before they were recalled in August 2010.

DePuy’s ASR hip devices and other all-metal hip implants pose a special danger because friction between the metal components releases particles of metal into the blood and surrounding tissue and muscle. The body’s cells break the metal particles into metallic ions, which can set off a chain reaction in the body and lead to bone fracture, muscle and tissue decay, pain, tumors, hip device creaking and dislocation, and a number of other symptoms.

Five years after her surgery, the patient profiled in the Blacktown Sun says she feels fine, even though blood tests confirmed she has high levels of cobalt toxicity in her system.

“I am not suffering major pains or serious health problems,” she told the Blacktown Sun. “I am not blaming anyone but waiting anxiously for a second letter to tell me I don’t need a revision surgery.”

But will such a letter ever come?

This patient’s experience underscores an interesting point made by a recent New York Times article that looked at how surgeons were scrambling to find solutions for failing all-metal hip implants. According to the report, “while some patients … with high blood levels of metallic debris show evidence of tissue damage, other patients with high levels appear fine. Tissue damage is also occurring in some patients with low or normal metal blood levels and in some patients who are free of symptoms.”

Doctors don’t know why the hip implants fail in some patients and not others, and why some patients are debilitated by heightened levels of heavy metal in their blood while others experience none of the adverse effects.

“So far, only a small fraction of the estimated 500,000 people in this country who received an all-metal hip over the last decade have suffered injuries,” the New York Times explains. “But studies suggest that those numbers will grow and that tissue destruction is occurring silently in some patients who have no obvious symptoms like pain.”


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